Interim Muscogee County School District superintendent John Phillips begins working part-time

Qualities for new leader discussed at last forum

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 2, 2012 

The replacement for Susan Andrews as Muscogee County School District superintendent was the topic of discussion Tuesday night at the Muscogee County Public Education Center.

Monday, interim superintendent John Phillips Jr., who has been on the job full-time for three months, began working 20 hours a week due to his state retirement. The part-time clause reduces his salary from $17,206.40 per month to $8,431.13, which is 49 percent of his full-time compensation.

The school board hopes to have a new superintendent by the end of this year.

"Dr. Phillips is definitely in charge," Muscogee County School District Chief Financial Officer Sharon Adams said when asked about the reduced time.

Adams said that she will attend some meetings in place of Phillips and Gary Gibson, the superintendent's chief administrative assistant, will handle others.

"It's just like when Dr. Andrews had to be away," Adams said.

Board chairwoman Cathy Williams said she is not concerned.

"We have a really capable cabinet," Williams said.

She said the members will work in tandem to get the work accomplished and that Phillips will give everyone strong direction.

Community forum

Prior to a school board meeting, a last community forum, led by John Smith and Loe Dunn of the McPherson & Jacobson LLC, executive search firm, was held to see what the public wants in a new superintendent.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre was among those in attendance, about 15 in all, and said the next superintendent needs to be a "bold leader," someone not afraid to go to the horizon, someone with the vision to take the system to the next level.

He or she must be somebody who can work with the community's diversity, a "bridge builder," Smyre said.

Former Columbus Mayor Bob Hydrick said this school district is a big business and the next superintendent needs strong management skills for a district this size.

"We need a good manager who has been successful in a system this size, one who is results-oriented and not process-oriented," Hydrick said.

Others at the meeting said they want to stop the "revolving door" and find someone who will stay more than a handful of years.

"If you are near retirement, then we don't need you in Muscogee County," one woman said.

One person said the superintendent needs to be someone who will set priorities, develop a game plan and stay the course.

Another person mentioned getting someone who will communicate well with teachers, and yet another said it should be a person who believes in excellence at all schools and won't accept excuses.

Smith and Dunn presented a stakeholder input report to members of the board.

It compiled all of the responses heard at the community forums, except for the ones Tuesday.

From the forums, the search firm found that the biggest issues facing the new superintendent are a gap in the academic achievement based on race and socioeconomic status, a high suspension rate of African-American males, a perception that inequities exist between north and south regions of the district, shrinking financial resources and a study of magnet school effectiveness.

Characteristics considered most important for the next superintendent also were listed.

Residents said the next superintendent should be someone who is a good communicator, who is visible and involved in the community, who embraces diversity and can work with people from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

A new superintendent also should have a willingness to work with all parents to help their children be successful, care about all the schools and children, have the ability to work with the board and not be influenced by politics and special interests of board members and be able to unify the board, residents said at the forums.

They also said they want a leader who is a visionary and willing to take charge, who has worked in and is familiar with districts the size of Muscogee and who is a person who understands the dynamics of teaching.

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