Sylacauga BOE begins superintendent interviews
by Chris Norwood
SYLACAUGA – The City Board of Education interviewed the first two candidates for their next superintendent Tuesday evening: Anthony Ball, director of operations for the Scottsboro City Schools, and Michael Freeman, who is currently the principal of Auburn High School.

Ball and Freeman both responded to the same sets of questions, which they had been provided beforehand. The questions covered superintendent/board relations, student achievement, financial management and strategic planning, employee relations and community involvement.

When asked if he had any issues with the job requirements that would be listed in his contract, Ball answered “As a school leader, there are two questions that I will ask myself in any situation. How will this impact my stars, my best teachers and staff, and is it best for the kids. The further up the ladder you get, the harder that can be sometimes. But the bottom line is, the board makes the policy and we all need to present a unified front. Having said that, I would have no problems complying with the requirements of my contract.”

Freeman explained the relationship between the board and superintendent by saying “The superintendent is the CEO and the public representative of the board. He carries out the board’s policies. Boards need to involved in the community, and the superintendent needs to discern the board’s wishes. The board must trust the superintendent, and there should never be any surprises, whether it’s good news or bad news.”

In asking about success in student achievement, Ball said “there is no magic bullet. It’s a complex web. But you must meet the students where they are, take them as they come and raise them up to the next level.” He also stressed community partnerships and technology as potential aids to enhance achievement. As for reducing the drop out rate, he said struggling students need to be identified earlier and cited flexibility, credit recovery programs and “adopt a senior” programs as potential benefits.

Freeman stressed “looking at common beliefs and guaranteed curriculum, where all students taking the same class will master the same set of skills.”

“Teaching is a science and an art,” he said. “The art portion can’t really be described. You have to give the teacher autonomy, not lockstep, and you have to give the teachers time to develop that autonomy.” He also emphasized ongoing progress monitoring over high stakes testing at the end of the school year. Emphasizing positive achievements is also a major factor, he added. As for the drop out issue, he stressed explaining what the numbers actually mean (students who completed all four years on time), mentoring and academic improvement courses on Saturdays and over the summer, and making sure students that aren’t going to college can find jobs in the area.

Ball said that in Scottsboro, financial and strategic planning are his primary jobs. He also emphasized the use of grants, and the necessity of making hard decisions on how to allocate limited funds. It is important for funds to be allocated where they are earned, he said.

It also vital to have a skillful and trusted chief financial officer in developing a budget.

He partnered with an energy efficiency company to get new heating and air at two schools and worked with the city to extend a bond issue to expand a stadium that had not been renovated since it was built, during Lyndon Johnson’s administration.

Freeman held a position similar to Ball’s before accepting the high school principal job. He said he currently serves on a district committee developing a long-term plan for the system, where he worked with the community, city government, the university and other stakeholders. He also stressed the importance of having a good CFO who can work with the superintendent and the department heads and principals.

When asked about working with outside groups and organizations, Ball said this was one of his strong suits. “I get along with people, and I can communicate with people on every level.” He also said that he was an enthusiastic supporter (and past president and executive committee member) of the Alabama Educators Association and a similar organization for administrators. Regarding conflict resolution, he said he supported following a chain of command, and said most complaints that reach the superintendents office are from people who are just wanting to be heard. Listening, being patient and being objective are the keys.

Freeman said he always tried to be professional, in or out of school. “People need to know that they can trust what I say and what I do, know that I’m competent and know my character.” He said he was a member of the East Alabama Mental Health Board, was active in his church and worked with various service clubs.

“It’s not about friendships, it’s about collegiality and treating the staff like family.

Conflict resolution, he said, needed to involve the parties sitting down and looking each other in the eye, and hopefully agreeing to peacefully disagree.

Both men cited employee mentoring as a great way to retain new teachers.

On the topic of community involvement, Ball said “the schools belong to the citizens, and they should be heard. Obviously, they love the system.”

He also cited use of social media to renovate an auditorium built during the Great Depression. Although he did not use social media himself, he found it to be an extremely effective fundraising tool. “We raised $82,000 from 29 states on Facebook,” he said. He had also established partnerships with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the local EMA and civic groups for various projects.

Freeman said he was impressed by the system’s partnerships with community organizations such as SAFE, service clubs and community service groups. He said you also need council support and support from local business and industry.

Both men emphasized the importance of talking with local businesses about what skills are needed.

Interviews will continue today with two more candidates fielding questions. Donald Dotson, assistant superintendent for the Montgomery County Board of Education, will interview at 4:30 p.m. Lee County Schools Assistant Superintendent Shannon Stanley will follow at 6 p.m.

Interviews conclude May 9 with Trey Holladay, director of alternative programs and athletics and principal for Oxford city schools, at 4:30 p.m. and Sharon Streeter, director of education for Dallas County schools, at 6 p.m. All interviews will be held at the Central Office on West Fourth Street.

Contact Chris Norwood at

© 2013