In the next several months, the Huntsville School Board will be tasked with finding a replacement for former Superintendent Clint Jones, who submitted his resignation last Monday after accepting a job with the University of Arkansas. Through December, the board has tabbed former Assistant Superintendent Tammi Davis to fill the superintendent’s role, though that stay could be longer with Davis announcing Monday that she plans to pursue the position on a permanent basis.
Though community support was often not strongly behind Jones, he did accomplish a number of things: he increased security at the district, kept the district’s budget in the black (and then some) and brought teachers annual bonuses and, more recently, much-needed raises. But Jones also fell short in some areas, most notably in his failure to pass a millage for a new district activity center. It’s our belief that the next superintendent needs to not only continue the positive work Mr. Jones has done in his tenure with the Huntsville School District, but excel in areas he didn’t: namely in gaining community support to progress the district to a competitive level with surrounding schools.
Hiring from within the district would alleviate issues seen with Mr. Jones. Change isn’t a bad thing, but let’s be honest: not everyone adapts well to it. It’s not necessary that the board hire someone local for the position (or, if it keeps with Mrs. Davis at the helm, for it to hire someone local for the assistant position), but if a person is hired from out-of-town, they do have a steeper hill to climb. If they want community support, they’ll have to hit the ground running to become ingrained in the community, both within and outside the school.
The following is a list of several things that we think the community wants to see the new superintendent accomplish:
• Get active. The superintendent is the face of the school district, and must be involved top-to-bottom in the community, from attending community functions to being involved in local civic organizations. That also includes increasing participation at events in St. Paul. The St. Paul schools may be 30 minutes away, but they’re as much a part of the school district as the Huntsville middle and high schools.
• Better communication. The superintendent needs to act as a liaison between the community, the teachers and the school board. That includes open, honest communication – even when things aren’t going well with certain parts of the district. Teacher turnover is high, and we know that not all programs have been successful (such as Flex Mod), and that some departments and classrooms have seen some budget reductions. The community wants a superintendent who will move forward with them – that doesn’t happen without open communication and honesty, even about some of the hard decisions administration sometimes has to make.
• Increase enrollment. Last year, we saw an exodus of dozens of students leaving the Huntsville School District to attend school in Elkins. Though a smaller school, the district was seen as one that’s been more progressive through updating its facilities (it most recently renovated its football field) and was an alternative for parents and students who were turned off from the Flex Mod scheduling at the Huntsville and St. Paul high schools. We need to get those students back, and give them more reason to stay with us.
• Continue security improvements. Jones’ biggest achievement as superintendent, perhaps, was the continuous upgrading of security at the district’s five campuses, from locking doors and key fob entries to limited access vestibules at the high and intermediate schools and the hiring of a second school resource officer. The fact is we live in a dangerous time. Shootings at Parkland and Sandy Hook have emphasized the need for districts everywhere to put money toward keeping students safe. The new superintendent must keep that as a priority.
• Pass a millage. We had some of the worst facilities in the 4A conference. This year, we’re moving up to 5A, and we don’t hold a candle to the facilities of our competition. Not only do the larger schools in our area – the Bentonville, Fayetteville and Springdale districts – greatly overpower us in terms of facilities, but so too do like-sized and smaller districts such as Farmington, Harrison and Elkins. Our gyms lack air conditioning and adequate parking and space for other activities. Not only does this put us at a disadvantage in terms of luring other visitors here (such as for sports tournaments), but also for keeping locals here – no longer should families have to drive to Fayetteville to see Huntsville students graduate.
Jones’ biggest shortcoming as superintendent was that he was unable to bring the Huntsville School District up from one of the lowest millage rates in the state. If Huntsville wants to compete with other schools – even smaller ones such as Elkins – it has to enter the 21st century. That won’t come without community support, and gaining that is no small feat.