Board searches for successor to Pruitt-Adams

As Joylynn Pruitt-Adams’ time at OPRF draws closer to an end, the current school board has been working on finding their next superintendent. Through focus groups, interviews, and surveying, feedback has been collected from students, parents, teachers, staff, and more. The board is using that feedback in their search. Students, teachers, and others have their own views on what they would like to see both in the new superintendent and in the hiring process.

The Board has hired Hazard Young Attea & Associates, a search firm, to help find the right candidate. “They interviewed over 1,800 people as part of this process,” Board President Sarah Dixon Spivy said. “The board is really interested in hearing what our students want, what our families want, what our staff wants. So, we are relying heavily on what the search firm found as a result of their interviews.”

“The focus groups provided important insight into the views of our community that will help inform decisions beyond the superintendent hiring process.” Spivy added. “We want to be really intentional about honoring (the) work” of the search firm.

The work determined five takeaways. It states that our next superintendent has to “effectively address issues related to equity and diversity”, build “trust and mutual respect among” those with different opinions, “connect” and “communicate” well with “all stakeholders,” be courageous and resilient yet humble, and “move the district forward” in a feasible way while understanding our community and working with others.

“There’s a lot of competing stakeholders with differing interests and it’s hard to keep everyone’s interests in mind while making decisions,” Spivy said. As to what the board is looking for, “We’re looking for somebody who has experience working in a district as diverse as ours,” she said.

“Hiring a superintendent needs to be a community decision.”

“I want to make sure that our superintendent understands that connection with students is really important. And I think Dr. Pruitt-Adams did a good job of that,” Spivy said. “That sort of willingness to engage with our students on a very personal level and know people’s names and follow up with folks as they move through the high school, that, I think, is extremely important.”

Spivy wants the next superintendent to be somebody with whom she feels like her “trust is well placed” and who is “willing to make hard decisions and do hard work to advance the policies of the district.”

Senior Kaleigh Clarke, president of Black Leaders Union (BLU), says she wants the next superintendent to be “willing to listen and work with” students who “come to them with possible solutions for an issue.” Clarke also wants them to be persistent, “a team player,” “caring,” and communicative with students.

OPRF PE/Health teacher Student Regina Gunn said she “would like to see someone who values a positive environment for both faculty and staff as well as students,” and “who sets their goals and expectations and is clear about how they’re going to accomplish them.”

She also wants the next superintendent to understand “the unique culture of our community. Someone needs to have that experience with diversity, with race, with ability, with gender identities, they need to have that awareness and understanding.”

This, Gunn thinks, would be demonstrated “by putting in an effort to get to know the students, employees, their families, and other members like the neighbors of OPRFHS. Once getting to know the community, one would identify the needs and create an action plan to fulfill” them. Gunn thinks that “Dr. Pruitt-Adams has demonstrated this understanding.”

OPRF parent David Schrodt, prior to the April 6 election, said that he thought that the next board, not the current one, should decide who the next superintendent will be. (At the time of the interview, Schrodt was running for school board but was not elected.)

“The voters should have some input on who they consider the best candidate as reflected in their representatives,” said Schrodt, who also noted that the next superintendent will be working with the next board rather than the current.

Schrodt said that he wants the superintendent to “have experience with media literacy. On average, high school students in the United States spend more than eight hours a day engaged in media, separate from schoolwork.”

He also expressed a desire for the next superintendent to live somewhat close to the high school, arguing that “Sometimes emergencies arise where it will be best to meet face to face or it will be best to be at the school. Sometimes the schedules of others will permit meetings to occur only on weekends or at otherwise inconvenient times.”

Spivy says that the next board choosing the superintendent is “simply is not possible given the timing.”

“We are required by law to have a superintendent. There is a ‘season’ for hiring school superintendents which is roughly late fall through early spring. If we were to wait for the new board to be sworn in in May, we would completely miss the 2021-2022 school year’s hiring season,” Spivy stated.

“The new board not only would have fewer and likely less qualified candidates (because the most highly sought-after would already have found new positions) but would also have had an unrealistic timeline in which to hire a search firm and interview candidates. Logistically it is not realistic for the new board to attempt to hire a superintendent with any sort of thoughtful process were it to be compressed into seven weeks or less.”

According to Clerk of the Board Gail Kalmerton, the Board plans to announce the choice on April 22.