Each candidate responded to the same set of 15 questions, which were provided beforehand, regarding board/superintendent relations, student achievement, financial management and strategic planning, employee relations and community involvement.
Dotson emphasized keeping students first when asked how he would handle a board member who disagrees with the superintendent’s recommendation.
He would first explain the reasoning behind the decision, and “in the event they do not agree, we move forward with what’s best for the children. If that board member can show me where our policy is not going to be best for the children, of course we need to re-think it.”
Stanley also said she would provide evidence and “be open to knowing your concerns are very legitimate. We need an openness of understanding that if it’s right for the children, I will get evidence to show you how it would be beneficial, but if I can’t provide adequate evidence, then I would need to go back and see exactly what we need to do.”
Both said student achievement is attained and maintained by a consistent, districtwide assessment system. To lower the dropout rate, Dotson said his current school system has implemented literacy labs, pull-out study sessions, Saturday school, after-school tutoring, and a successful paid student tutoring program. Stanley said Lee County has tackled the issue by more closely tracking the reason students are dropping out and working to eliminate those circumstances.
As for the superintendent’s role in financial management, both candidates said it relies on a relationship with the chief financial officer.
“The superintendent has to be cognizant of budget pitfalls and look at how you can trim,” said Dotson, who recently led a charge to close six Montgomery County schools because of budgeting and other issues. “The first thing most people say is look at personnel, but I think you first look at what’s not working, and if that ties itself to personnel, that’s all well and good, but you look at what your district is doing that’s really not working, not impacting student achievement. Everything we do should be impacting student learning in some way, shape or form.”
Stanley said managing finances is first about “having the knowledge base to make sound decisions, then you can work with the board to determine your needs, as well as district leadership and stakeholders, to see where their priorities lie, and also how to plan for expansion” within a limited budget, she said.
Employee relations hinges on a “cordial, working relationship with staff,” Dotson said, as well as opening up schools to community members. “(Students) are their children and they’re going to be in their place sometime in the future, so (community members) have the right to know what’s going on. How best to develop a curriculum unless those who are going to hire your students have some input in it?”
Dotson said he would consider quarterly town hall meetings as a way to keep the community informed and give them a means of open communication with school employees.
Stanley said the key to good employee relations is giving staff the tools and freedom to do their jobs well. “I believe if we give employees the right type of professional development and the ability to create goals by data, we can collaborate,” she said. “My role in curriculum and instruction is to support teachers and principals and not to forget what it’s like to be in that role.”
To maintain community involvement, Stanley said her current system allows community speakers at its board meetings. She said schools “need to have parents and community leaders available and engaged in discussions about system goals. It’s very important to have that because if you don’t, you’re really missing a big part of your stakeholders. You’re not informing them, and they’re not informing you, so you need to have that.”
Dotson called himself a “non-traditional candidate” because of his varied experience in education. He has previously been a director of logistics, principal and Career Tech director. Sylacauga schools would be “a great fit and a great opportunity for me,” he said.
Likewise, Stanley said she has not applied with any other school systems, “because I really feel like you have to find the right fit to be a successful superintendent. I am familiar with this system because I’ve lived in this area, and it’s like coming home in a sense.” She has previously been a principal and assistant principal.
Superintendent interviews conclude tonight 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. at the Central Office.
The board previously interviewed Anthony Ball, director of operations for the Scottsboro City Schools, and Auburn High School Principal Michael Freeman.
A called meeting will follow interviews tonight to discuss the candidates and the next steps in the hiring process.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.