Local residents seek stability, focus on students in any new hire for Superintendent

The Polk County Board of Education got to hear the first round of comments from local residents who are hoping their opinions will help shape the search for a new superintendent for the school system.

And it was a meeting that one of those speakers, Frank Plant, said was a great departure from the norm of how the Board of Education usually goes about picking their new chief.

"Has anyone ever been to a meeting like this in Polk County? I haven't," said Plant. "This is a first for me, that the board would be willing to hear the people speak before they make a decision."

Tuesday's session allowing for public comment in Rockmart about the Superintendent search ended with a round of applause for the board, and began with Board chair Tommy Sanders setting the tone.

"We're here because your opinion matters," Sander said.

And there were plenty of thoughts from local residents who wanted to be heard about what the Board of Education should look for in a new superintendent.

Four speakers signed up to share their thoughts - Plant, Carolyn Williams, new Rockmart High School Principal Robyn Teems, and Wayne Sanders.

With Rockmart City council member Sherman Ross acting as the night's moderator, he called on Williams to come before the Board of Education first. Speakers were given five minutes

Williams, a member of the Polk County Support and Enhancement Team, said the group has tried to share thoughts about concerns with the school system, and she said the group was glad to get to share concerns over the new hire.

"What do we look at when we get these applications, and what does the Board of Education look at when they hire a new Superintendent? Over the past years, we've had what? Two or Three Superintendents? So what happened? What do we look for when we are employing these people, and then in a short period of time, we think we might have made a mistake," she said.

"The last person - and I'm not calling names - but the insult he made before you actually gave him his seat. To me, he should have been gone that night," Williams said. "The superintendent has to be someone who can deal with people even if people are wrong. You are the board. So that is one of the things that needs to be stressed."

Williams also cited the need to have concern for all students and to avoid any favoritism within the system, evaluating the system without any emotion, and to have final say over contract renewals to prevent losing teachers for personal, not professional reason.

She also sought to have the board choose a candidate who is willing to provide quarterly education sessions to teachers and administrators on how students are presented information, to avoid any language that would be considered political, for instance.

Plant's comments were mild for the former board member who has been highly critical of the board during past meetings, despite his own past history.

He said he felt a majority of the board members will "do the right thing" when hiring a new superintendent, but also cautioned them to be sure to dig deep into any candidate's background.

Teems used her time during the meeting to say that based on her past 27 years in the district in a variety of positions that the board should promote a candidate who has already submitted her name for the job, assistant Superintendent Laurie Atkins.

"I believe that when we look for our new leader, we should look at the results of our last school board election," Teems said. "The people of Polk County turned out en masse to elect our three new board members. Honest, integrity and transparency and hometown values are very important to our county and to our voters."

Teems said she felt for the first time in several years the Polk School District has stability and hope, and operating with the future of the students in mind.

"We need a superintendent that calls Polk County home, we need someone who wants what's best for our students, because it's what's best for our hometown," Teems said. "We need a superintendent that understands the educational process at all levels, Pre-K through graduation."

That one candidate pointed to Atkins, who Teems said but did not specifically name during her comments, believes will keep Polk School District in the same direction that was started in March following the departure of former Superintendent Darrell Wetherington, who took over for now retired William Hunter who had held the job since 2013.

Atkins acknowledged she has applied for the position, but had no further comment.

Adding final thoughts for the night was Sanders, a former educator in Polk School District, Rome City Schools, Shorter College and currently an online professor for the University of Phoenix.

He provided a list of items the school board should definitely seek out in their new superintendent, and characteristics that they should avoid.

Specifically, he said that a large amount of scrutiny should be placed on any candidate who lost their job as a superintendent previously.

"There's something not right in Denmark if a school system has let them go," said Sanders. "And don't hire anyone with negative vibes. And if you can, go observe that person in their job, preferably unannounced, and see what they are doing." Sanders said. "I've learned to go observe someone and see what they are like before I let a transfer go through."

At the conclusion of the meeting, board member J.P. Foster encouraged those in attendance to come again this coming Tuesday, June 28, to the Polk County College and Career Academy's new building at Cedartown High School for a second round of public comments.

"You saw that no one got beaten down, no one got ate up here. So I want you to encourage your family, your friends, your co-workers to come out to the meeting in Cedartown next Tuesday," Foster said. "This is your opportunity to be heard. So work those phone lines, get on your email, in the stores, or when you see your people or see your co-workers who are going to be effected by this next hire, you let them know to come out and support what we are trying to do with this input."

Those who can't attend the meeting have a second option, interim Superintendent Greg Teems said. They can email any comments to superintendentsearch@polk.k12.ga.us, which is being checked only by the consultant hired to help the board find a new hire.

"The purpose of it is for people not feel comfortable speaking in public, or can't come to the meeting to have a voice in the process as well," said James Wilson with Educational Planners, the consultant on the Superintendent Search.

Wilson is handling both the public comments and the applications from potential new hires, Teems said. He said that Wilson will be presenting a report to the board when his part of the process is completed.

The new consultant said that less than 25 emails had so far been sent into the board with comments.