Frederick R. Heid Selected as Next Superintendent
The Polk County School Board voted to select Frederick R. Heid as the next superintendent of Polk County Public Schools!
The school board voted unanimously to choose Heid from among five remaining finalists.
Negotiations will now begin with Heid to determine salary and other important terms of his contract. The school board is expected to approve the contract during its meeting on May 11.
Heid is currently superintendent of the Community Unit School District in Algonquin, Ill.
The selection of Heid is the culmination of an exhaustive search process that began last year.
Online surveys and community forums took place for residents, PCPS employees, parents, students and other stakeholders to share what leadership qualifications would be important for the district’s next leader. More than 50 people submitted applications, and a group of volunteers from diverse backgrounds was assembled to serve as a Citizens Screening Committee to narrow down the possible candidates.
Five finalists visited Polk County for in-person interviews. They also participated in a virtual Q&A session, as well as meet-and-greet events for community members and PCPS employees. An online form was also set up for the community to submit feedback on the finalists for the school board to consider.
MEET THE STUDENT SUPER(INTENDENT) SLEUTHS!
At Polk County Public Schools, when we say we put Students First, we mean we put them at the center of everything — even the search for our next superintendent. To help us find our next leader, we’ve recruited a team of student super(intendent) sleuths. Like all of our students, each of our sleuths has unique abilities, backgrounds, challenges and ambitions. Combined, they form an unstoppable search force. Meet the sleuths, and find out what they’re looking for in our next superintendent of schools.
MEET THE FINALISTS
School board members came together as a group on April 21 and 22 to conduct interviews with each finalist. The public was invited to attend the interviews, which are posted to the Polk County Public Schools YouTube Channel.
DR. JAMES MCINTYRE
Efficient and effective business structures can be successfully maintained in harmony with organizational culture and teacher morale. Presumably, the phrase “business structures” is referring at least in part to accountability measures to ensure quality instruction and robust student learning outcomes. I believe that building a school district culture that focuses on continuous improvement and excellence for all students can lead to greater educational effectiveness while actually enhancing teacher satisfaction and morale.
In order to achieve these seemingly competing outcomes, several specific priorities need to be embraced. First, the school district needs to ensure that the organizational culture is focused squarely on the success of children. Fostering a positive student-centered culture connects with the reasons most teachers have chosen this profession: to help young people to learn and succeed. Therefore, getting the culture right can bolster and reinforce the morale of teachers, as well as the efficacy of their work with children.
Second, expectations need to be exceedingly clear for all employees, particularly teachers. Research from the Gallup Organization1 found that employees need four things most from leadership: trust, compassion, stability and hope. Interestingly, stability does not mean that things never change. Stability essentially means that decisions are not arbitrary, and there is a rationale and a logic to how the organization does its work. Stability means there is an understanding of the fundamental values and expectations of the organization. Providing clear expectations and organizational stability will help build trust and catalyze educational excellence.
Third, performance evaluation systems need to be developmental. Clear goals, consistent developmental feedback, and professional learning to support teacher efficacy are all part of a system of continuous improvement and growth that helps educators enhance their instructional practice. With accountability structures that are developmental rather than punitive, teachers can embrace a growth mind-set, enjoy greater job satisfaction, and be better equipped to carry out their instructional responsibilities effectively.
Fourth, teachers should be encouraged and expected to collaborate with their colleagues. Collaborative structures within schools help teachers learn from each other, support each other, get feedback, and share promising instructional practices. Many successful school districts have found that collaboration not only makes teachers feel more supported, it also makes them more effective educators.
Finally, teachers should be treated as the professionals that they are. We have an obligation to ensure high quality instruction is happening in every classroom, and that academic standards are being met. But the knowledge, creativity, energy, personality, and innovation that educators bring to this work is what engages our students, and makes public education special. Clear parameters should be set for outcomes that need to be achieved, and then teachers should be given the latitude to meet those expectations in ways that leverage their particular strengths.
Embracing these priorities can enable a school district to maintain effective business structures and accountability measures, while also ensuring a positive student-centered organizational culture that will both enhance teacher morale and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the educational enterprise, thus maximizing student learning and success.
My approach with regard to developing a high-functioning district leadership team would entail three elements: 1) invest the time in getting to know current and potential future leaders, 2) align the organizational structure to the documented needs of the Polk County Public Schools as articulated in a detailed strategic plan, and 3) utilize a strengths-based approach to match talent to needs.
First, I recognize that if appointed as superintendent of the Polk County Public Schools, I will have only a cursory knowledge of the district’s leaders. I will certainly request resumes and job descriptions, and have one-on-one conversations with all the senior staff in the school system. But developing deep knowledge of the strengths, capacity, dispositions, and areas for improvement of employees takes time. First impressions can be incorrect, but typically over a period of a few months, people’s capabilities are made clear. I will invest the time to get to know current and potential future leaders in the school system, so that I can build a highfunctioning administrative team.
Second, I would seek to align our organizational structure to meet the priorities and needs identified through a collaborative strategic planning process. I believe that no single organizational structure is best suited to all school districts at all times. Rather, for a school system to be successful, the organizational structure must respond to and reflect the specific educational needs of the community at a particular moment in time. Therefore, I would base any reorganization or realignment of the administrative team on the results of a comprehensive strategic planning process.
Finally, I believe in leveraging people’s strengths. Taking the time to get to know our people will allow me to better understand the strengths they possess, and how they can be best positioned to make meaningful contributions to the education of children in the Polk County Public Schools. Matching employees’ strengths to our specific organizational needs will create tremendous value, and maximize student success.
I previously found myself in a similar situation when I was appointed as superintendent of the Knox County Schools in Tennessee. Coming from Boston, Massachusetts, I knew no one in Knoxville, and had to carefully assess the members of the district team. Only after investing the time to get to know the leadership team and many of our school-based personnel, was I ready to make some thoughtful adjustments. Many fine educators remained in their positions, but some individuals were moved into different jobs, some roles were changed, and a few were transitioned off of the leadership team. Several school-based leaders or other central office managers were promoted to fill specific needs. We were also able to hire just a few talented educational leaders from outside the school district to provide even greater balance and depth to our senior staff. The resulting team was extremely high-functioning, and extremely well suited to meet the needs of the school system at that time. This exceptional team was instrumental in helping the Knox County Schools achieve extraordinary student learning outcomes.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragic shooting of young children at Sandyhook Elementary School in 2012, our community was on edge. Parents and stakeholders knew that the Knox County Schools had experienced its first fatal school shooting in 2008, and that in 2010 a disgruntled teacher had shot and wounded two school administrators. Now parents, particularly elementary school parents, were worried that what happened at Sandyhook, could happen anywhere. Even the smallest questions about security protocols or apprehensions about aging security equipment were understandably being elevated as major community concerns. Public anxiety was growing, and there was considerable tension around school safety, despite the significant measures we had already taken in recent years.
That spring, we made student safety and school security a major focus of our efforts. As superintendent, I began by engaging with our law enforcement partners in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and Knoxville Police Department (KPD). Together, we held multiple community meetings to hear from the public about their concerns around school safety, and to share our current security procedures. After many conversations with our school board, parents, students, educators, security experts, and other stakeholders, we collaboratively developed a student safety plan that included a proposal for a massive new multi-million dollar investment in school security. Together, the Sheriff, the Police Chief and I publicly articulated and advocated for the plan, which would address our community’s concerns through multiple strategies, including:
- Undertaking a detailed security assessment of each school campus, aided by law enforcement.
- Adoption of physical security tools, including:
- locking all school doors and adding camera/buzzer entry systems in all schools
- adding and updating state-of-the-art video monitoring systems in all schools
- building secure vestibule entry portals in all new and renovated schools
- installing keyless entry card systems in all schools
- installing fencing and adjusting school access control in accordance with the security
- Collaborating with law enforcement to ensure we had at least one uniformed, armed officer assigned full-time to every school. This included School Resource Officers from the Sheriff’s Office or KPD, as well as School Security Officers who were employed by the school system. In order to meet this goal, Knox County Schools had to essentially double the number of School Security Officers.
- Engaging students as part of the safety effort. Ensuring that every student had at least one meaningful relationship with an adult in the building, so that if they felt unsafe or had information about safety they could share it with that school employee. We also created an anonymous text-tip line where students could provide safety-related information in real time.
After much community dialogue, our security plan was approved by our school board and funded by the county commission. Our intensive two-way communication campaign, coupled with the substantial commitment of effort, energy, and resources to address the issue of student safety, ultimately reassured our parents and community that we would do everything in our power to create a safe and secure learning environment for our children.
The culture and morale of a school district and its employees are key leading indicators in determining whether the system can truly accomplish its vision and mission. Building morale and culture, while maintaining efficient and effective business structures, requires a clear vision and mission, as well as effective communication and authentic engagement cycles as essential components of an effective school district.
The vision and mission of a school district should be clear to all employees. Clarity is accomplished through strong and effective communication practices across the system that provide employees opportunities for authentic engagement, such as meeting with
employee groups and giving them voice, where feedback is welcomed and valued. When people feel valued and heard, they are more engaged in their job and commitment to the work. Moreover, this is an important step in building trust. Therefore,
it is important that as Superintendent, the morale and culture in the district is valued at a premium and intentional efforts are made to create the space and place to connect with employees. In my current position as Deputy Superintendent, I have implemented a
system practice where employees have an opportunity to provide feedback on the culture and engagement within their own divisions and departments; this feedback is shared for the purpose of reflection and improvement. This powerful strategy has demonstrated the district’s commitment to truly valuing employees and their feedback.
In order to maintain efficient and effective business structures, it is critical to align coherent systems to district priorities. Alignment to our priorities will provide clarity in the system when making decisions around budget, personnel, programs and initiatives. To create focus, we must be a school district that has a limited number of priorities so that everyone in the system can work towards accomplishing them. I recognize this is easier said than done, but what I have learned is nothing affects morale and culture negatively more than an unrealistic number of competing priorities with unrealistic expectations to accomplish them all. I also recognize that the balance of morale and culture while being efficient and effective sometimes come into conflict with each other. Difficult decisions made in the name of efficiency and effectiveness may sometimes negatively impact the morale and culture in the district. It will be in times as such, that we will lean on those authentic engagement cycles to work through those conflicting
times, as well as provide the appropriate just right support for our employees. I have found that when employees understand the “Why” behind decisions made, it often provides the clarity needed to accept and implement those decisions. This approach is how I will build morale and culture, while ensuring and maintaining efficient and effective business structures.
The success of a Superintendent relies heavily on the strength of the team–the Senior Leadership of a school district. While no one individual is greater than the collective team, I believe in maximizing people’s strength and putting them in the right position to succeed is essential.
Coming into Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) with the possibility of having to fill a number of high-level administrative positions, I would first take the time to evaluate existing team members and their performance in their current roles. It has been my experience taking the time to evaluate has allowed me to build highly effective teams. Leading with people first, my initial days in the entry in the district would be dedicated to getting to know our senior leaders, and connecting and learning with them. I would also
intentionally connect and recognize those individuals with historical perspective within PCPS, to honor their years of work and commitment to the district, to gain insight in order to be better informed prior to making any personnel decisions.
My timeline for this process would be dictated by the urgency that may or may not exist to fill vacant positions, as well as the desire, willingness and capacity of those individuals currently serving interim roles. As part of my team evaluation, I would also
look to our leadership pipeline in the district to identify talent. We must provide opportunities for our leaders within the district to develop, grow and advance. I would want to look within the district prior to looking outside to fill any positions because you want to create a sustainable system and continuity of mission and vision. Diversity of experiences, strengths and perspectives are key factors in determining the potential new additions. It has been my experience, and research affirms, that highly effective teams exhibit those characteristics and traits; I would ensure that our senior leadership reflects these qualities.
As I consider any type of realignment of the administrative team, my thought process would be focused on how our current structures support our schools and whether improvements could be made to the current structure to produce better student
outcomes. In most school districts across the country, there typically exists a healthy tension between schools and central offices. This relationship is one to explore as I enter the school district. I would take the time to hear from both central offices, as well
as school leaders and teams before making any decisions regarding that relationship in our district. School data would also be an important factor, as I consider whether our current organizational structures are producing the results we want or whether changes are needed. As a district, we will live our core value of students first in all decisions made. By doing so we will reach our mission of providing a high-quality education to all students and become the A-rated school district that I know we are.
High-stress situations are a common occurrence in leadership roles across school districts and organizations. There is some truth to the belief that the more you are exposed to those situations, the better you become as a leader in dealing effectively
with them. While that may be true in many situations, there had not been an experience in my 23 years in education that would have prepared me for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community horrific act of violence and cowardice that tragically
took the lives of 17 students and staff three years ago. I led the efforts to support the school, students, and community post-tragedy; I worked directly with district staff to provide any and all support to help make each day a little better. I was committed to being present and available and willing to teachers, students or parents. Many days were spent just listening to what was needed and connecting the appropriate district departments to school staff, parents and families. Other meetings with faculty and staff
were spent sharing resources and supports, as well as providing updates. Truthfully, many of those meetings were quite difficult and challenging. Emotionally wrenching.
As students returned to campus, I worked with the district’s safety department, as well as local law enforcement, to implement new security checks and protocols for students coming onto campus. I supported the efforts to provide a Wellness Center on campus
to provide trauma-informed counseling for students and staff as well as served as the liaison with the Construction and Facilities Department to install classroom modulars. I communicated with staff and the community throughout this time to provide updates on
counseling opportunities and available resources and answered questions that arose. In the transition back the following year, I worked collaboratively with the school, district and community leaders in the development of the plans to honor the 17 lives
taken at the one year mark of the tragedy. I coordinated several portions of the day including working with local churches and faith-based organizations who sponsored a breakfast hosted by students for First Responders as a way to thank them for their
bravery and service. I led by serving and facilitating several meetings that connected district, city, and community leaders to make sure this day was one that honored the 17 lives and provided service and solace across the entire community. This experience
was one that truly challenged me, shaped me, and has forever changed my life.
Any transition in senior leadership can result in some level of organizational uncertainty. The reality is that almost immediately upon announcing a change in leadership, the organization as a whole begins to see shifts in focus and a possible dip in morale. At the same time, stress builds due to the uncertainty surrounding a new leader’s priorities, leadership style, and values. Often, staff will begin to reflect on their worth to the organization as concerns arise regarding “what happens now.” While initially disruptive, I will take steps to alleviate these concerns and ensure that the team feels supported and focused on the work ahead.
The foundation of the district’s culture must start with the Superintendent. I lead in the manner that I expect others to lead. I model effective communication, clarity of purpose, focus on continuous learning and improvement, and a deep commitment to the people doing the work. It sounds simple, but I lead by example, which allows my team to know my expectations and values as a leader.
I will develop a rapport with all team members from the school board to the district team to school teams, including developing an understanding of them as people first (e.g., aspirations, family, faith, hobbies). An employee will not feel valued or part of the team if they do not feel heard or more importantly understood. The cornerstone of building culture and raising morale relies on cultivating relationships with individuals, which provides insight into their internal motivators, thereby alleviating apprehension.
I will listen to individual team members discuss their work and their role as professionals, focusing on the following questions:
- How would you describe your role to me (beyond the standard Job Description)?
- What barriers have prevented you from being better able to address
issues within your department or sphere of influence?
Each team member must be willing to reflect and allow for an honest discussion of why we do things the way they are done. However, it is important to create a safe space for these discussions to help ensure the team understands that questions regarding practices are not misinterpreted as a personal criticism. This again leads to building trust and a shared commitment in our mutual goal of providing the best possible educational experience for our staff and students.
Finally, it is important to establish my expectations regarding individual/department performance and evaluations. Being new to the district, I will be receptive to feedback (both positive and negative) from various stakeholders regarding any individual employee or department. However, I will not base any decisions on this information alone. Instead, I will share these things with the individual. We would then develop a personal/professional growth plan that serves to support successful outcomes for the individual and the organization. I believe in providing regular and honest feedback to eliminate a feeling of a “gotcha” in their evaluation. At the end of the year, the final evaluation should not be a surprise. Instead, it should simply capture their performance as effective or ineffective.
The process of evaluating and adjusting a leadership team is ongoing and must be conducted fairly, respectfully, and candidly. Throughout my career, I have utilized a tiered approach to building and sustaining a strong leadership team as follows:
Tier I – Holistic evaluation of existing team member’s skills, strengths, and attributes:
Evaluating the effectiveness of an individual leader or leadership team requires a comprehensive review beyond the numbers alone. It must also include an analysis of their ability to innovate, collaborate, and foster meaningful interactions with others. It must also consider their dedication and commitment to organizational excellence.
It is important to speak with each employee and their respective peers to develop a comprehensive understanding of the leader. It is also important to listen objectively when feedback is provided to filter the information being shared appropriately. A few guiding questions are included below:
- Is the leader empowered to perform their job effectively? If not, what barriers exist?
- Does the leader understand the synergy and collaboration with others required to perform their role?
- How do others perceive them? Is the basis for concern factual or personal?
- What evidence is there that the leader has worked towards continuous improvement for themselves and others?
- Do they hold themselves and others accountable in a manner that builds improvement and trust?
- Do they have the essential knowledge and experience to be successful in their role?
While this requires an investment of time, the next Superintendent will not begin officially until July 1st. If selected, I would ask to start spending time with staff and stakeholders immediately to gather insight into each team member and evaluate the need for any changes. I would then share my recommendations with the Board, including my rationale for any resulting changes.
Tier II – Talent development:
During the meeting on March 9th, the Board expressed concerns regarding succession leadership and the need to look externally for the next Superintendent. I would guess that these concerns are echoed further when looking at other senior leadership roles within the district. The question of “What is our succession leadership plan?” is extremely important and one that must be addressed directly.
Talent development and acquisition are very valid concerns and are echoed across school districts. To this end, I would work to establish leadership pipelines for both school-based and district-level positions. This should be a structured process that focuses on developing the necessary skills to be an effective leader and to create an operational understanding of the school/district.
Not without its merits, this is not a traditional pipeline program where candidates are taught “our way” of doing things. The program must include members of the Board, administrators, community members, and even union leadership. This experience will be focused on professional standards for educational leaders no matter their leadership level. We must craft our leadership development programs to be proactive in addressing administrator needs through role-playing or scenario-based experiences.
The unfortunate passing of a staff member or student is a difficult situation that every educational leader is likely to face at some point in their career.
During the 2018-19 school year, a teacher passed away following an accidental fall in the school stairwell. While incredibly tragic, this matter was further complicated as the incident occurred at the start of the school day as students arrived on campus and began to transition to their first-period class. This situation required a response and resulting actions that would be respectful, multifaceted, transparent, and well-coordinated, considering the needs of the staff, students, families, and community.
Our first step was to isolate the event and prevent staff and students from coming into contact with the scene. To do so, we immediately placed the school in a soft lockdown (students reported to their first-period class or gymnasium) while blocking the entrances to the stairwell where the accident occurred. The lockdown also ensured the area would be safely contained while law enforcement and fire rescue attended to the teacher and investigated the incident. This first action step also helped ensure that we could manage our communication with staff and families as information became available.
Once contained, the district team worked to address various issues simultaneously as follows:
Communication (staff, students, and families) – Given the circumstances, we understood the need to emphasize clear, concise, and timely communication with various stakeholders. We accomplished this through the use of our automated phone calling system and emails.
After notifying the Board, we began by informing the staff of their colleague’s passing in smaller groups. Reactions varied, with some staff opting to return to their classroom and students while others needed support from the crisis team. Student classes were slowly transitioned to the gymnasium for supervision as needed.
Throughout the day, we worked to provide parents with updates as new information became available. We also emphasized the need to watch for signs that their child may be in distress and provided information about how we could assist. Furthermore, we
outlined the counseling health/grief supports we had in place for students.
Crisis Team Deployment – The district deployed our Crisis Management team members to the school to assist with providing counseling to students and staff. Given the nature of the event and the teacher’s 21 years of service in the community, we understood the need for immediate and sustained mental health/crisis support. Again, our communication outlined the counseling services and supports we had in place for students, staff, and families. We continuously worked to reassure our families that these
services would remain in place as long as necessary or until such time that counseling needs could be managed by the school-based team.
Student Parent Reunification Implemented – Given the nature of the accident and the impact that the news of the teachers passing would have on staff, students, and families, I made the decision to notify parents of the accident (limited details at first) and
began the process of following our on-site reunification plan.
DR. T. NAKIA TOWNS
Based on my experience in both the public and private sectors, I believe that most people truly want to work in organizations that are productive, that achieve defined goals, and – for public entities – are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Efficient and Effective Operations is one of our five action areas in the Hamilton County Schools’ strategic plan. Our improvements in that area have contributed to high morale and a positive culture. This is because improved organizational structures also result in better working conditions. Over the last three years, our teacher job satisfaction rate has increased from 84% to 90%. That satisfaction has led to greater staff productivity which continues to drive business optimization.
A public school district is efficient and effective when we deliver seamless operations that support a safe and healthy learning environment for our students. Families and the community should find us engaging and responsive, as we train central office and school-based staff to deliver world class customer service. To meet these high expectations, our staff must have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs well. So, when staff seek support from administrative functions such as human resources or IT, they, too, should receive great customer service that is solution-oriented and timely. These elements are foundational to building high morale and a strong culture.
In Hamilton, our staff know I value them as experts in their respective functions. One of the principles of high reliability organizations is to “defer to expertise.” Those who are closest to the work have the most insight about how we might reduce costs, save time, and improve results. As Deputy Superintendent, I have sought employee input at every level in policy and decision-making.
- We consult educators and our Teachers Cabinet to vet instructional initiatives.
- For operational areas, our employees lead the efforts to help us “work smarter not harder.”
- Our current transition to an enterprise resource planning system is managed by a project steering committee that includes line staff.
I empower our employees to contribute their expertise in achieving the district’s goals. I strive to create a culture where everyone is welcome at the table, and I reject the notion of “that’s above my pay grade.” Through leveraging the expertise of all staff, we have built more efficient and effective business structures while simultaneously bolstering morale and culture.
As our performance has improved, we have made sure employees are recognized, rewarded, and celebrated for their efforts. Through our #IAmHamilton and #HCSHero campaigns, we highlight individual employees’ contributions. We have also invested $42 million in additional staff compensation over the last three years. We publish our Annual Performance Summary and host the State of System event to publicly communicate and celebrate the progress towards our goals. Being intentional about keeping our School Board and community apprised of our successes further promotes employee morale and motivation. Thus, I have led a more satisfied, productive team to build morale and culture while sustaining efficient and effective business structures.
As the next superintendent of Polk County Public Schools, I will take great care in evaluating and potentially realigning the administrative team to best leverage each person’s talents. Over the past decade, I have a track-record of building and leading great teams who have successfully delivered on our mission to serve children and families through excellent public schools. I also have an extensive background in human resources and a strong foundation in talent management. I have recruited, selected, hired and promoted skilled individuals to numerous roles including teacher leaders, administrators, and senior cabinet. From this experience, I know that a clear understanding of the organizational goals is essential for building great teams.
I will prioritize gathering feedback from the School Board and the community about their assessment of the strengths and opportunities for PCPS. The School Board has worked closely with senior staff and has valuable insight on how the team has operated historically, and I’ll look to the Board to set expectations for me to lead the district. I will engage the community to better understand their perceptions and experiences, as well as getting feedback from school-based and central office staff. With clarity around the School Board’s expectations and the community’s feedback, I can then begin to compare the “current state” with the “desired state” towards building a great team.
To reach the expectations of the School Board and the community, I need a leadership team who will complement my strengths. For example, I have a background deeply rooted in instructional leadership and policy, having worked at the district and state level, alongside school leaders serving the fullrange of diverse communities. However, being new to central Florida, I won’t have the historical context and institutional knowledge specific to PCPS. I will seek senior cabinet members who bring that experience and perspective to the table. The leadership team also must reflect the diversity of the district in every way – demography, geography, and ideology. This is how we will avoid blind spots in meeting the needs of the entire county.
In evaluating a potential administrative realignment, I will again follow the direction set by the School Board and the community’s input on how we define success. As the teachings of Dr. Edwards Deming suggests, every system is perfectly designed for the results it gets. Therefore, if stakeholders want different or better results, then the system will need to change on some level. I will gather input from all departments to better understand how the current system works and to generate plans on how we might realign management and reporting structures to achieve the results that the Board and community desire. I will also consider securing external support to audit existing systems, structures, and processes and help us benchmark against best practices. I will take the time to carefully evaluate the current state, identify any gaps, and seek input to help build a great administrative team to lead a system designed for excellence.
The six-weeks beginning March 12, 2020 brought COVID-19 and an EF3 tornado to my district, not only disrupting school but life as we knew it. To call this situation high-stress would be an understatement. Yet, in August, Hamilton County Schools would become the first large school district in Tennessee to reopen for in-person learning. To help achieve this remarkable milestone, I relied upon my well-honed crisis communication skills and personal values of trust, transparency and integrity to reach various stakeholders.
Within the district, I facilitated the emergency-called meeting on March 12 to prepare school leaders for building closures. I co-authored our continuous learning checklists for teachers, principals, and families that we distributed via our website, e-newsletter, and social media accounts. For the next six months, I helped lead weekly principal meetings to seek input, share new information, and plan for reopening. I left the emergency called meeting to attend a televised press conference with the County Mayor and Health Department where I publicly announced the closure to our community and fielded media questions about meal delivery and virtual learning.
These experiences reaffirmed for me that leaders can never over-communicate during a crisis. We decided to distribute our community e-newsletter three times a week and twice a week for staff. I managed our team and oversaw our work to proactively share important public information across our social media platforms at all hours. Saturation and convenience were my priority goals, and we made certain our posts stayed at the top of our followers’ timelines.
Our focus on social media allowed me to engage more informally with stakeholders through my individual accounts. With our offices closed, I used my voice to guide and reassure, instilling confidence amid uncertainty. I stayed close to our community partners through participating in weekly virtual meetings of the Children’s Cabinet, where I provided updates on our continuous learning plan, while elevating the needs of our students and families, including tornado relief. These conversations planted the seeds for HCS EdConnect, which is a 10-year commitment to provide high-speed internet to the homes of nearly 30,000 low income students at no cost to the family.
Finally, I co-authored and edited our nearly 100-page continuous learning plan that detailed all the operating procedures from our School Reopening Taskforce, and our policies regarding the SAFE Pledge and COVID-19 work protocols. I wrote and compiled a 25-page FAQ that answered school reopening related questions. These public facing documents engendered trust through transparency. They are the source of truth to create clarity and consistency for students, families and staff.
My calm, steady and frequent communication during the response to COVID-19 and a devastating tornado helped our district to effectively deal with both crises. We collected over 45,000 survey responses on reopening, and we were able pilot our plans during a three-week summer program in July. Hamilton County Schools was the first large district in Tennessee to successfully return to school for in-person learning, on-time and as originally scheduled on August 12, 2020.
SUPER SEARCH TIMELINE
Polk County Public Schools and the Florida School Boards Association aim to have a new superintendent of schools in place by July 1, 2021. The process includes surveys, community forums and interviews with candidates. Take a look at the search timeline below.