Only about 30 people attended Tuesday's forums for residents to give input in the search for the next Muscogee County School District superintendent.
The one at Carver High School attracted about 25 people, while the one at Northside High School drew only five.
Ann Davis, who attended Carver's forum, was disappointed in the attendance.
Many were senior citizens. When asked how many in the school auditorium were parents, only a few raised their hands.
"Parents need to get more involved in their children's education," Davis said. She no longer has children or grandchildren in the school district. "I thought this place would be filled."
Dick Sundblad and Loe Dunn of the executive search firm McPherson & Jacobson L.L.C. conducted Carver's forum. Sundblad said the information gathered was to find the skills locals desire in a new superintendent and gain information to help recruit someone.
"Districts have different needs," he said. "We want to match skills with the needs."
He said finding the right superintendent is a "major task."
Dunn said she already had met with some teachers who said they felt stress from too many programs that are constantly changing.
"They want someone who will find a program that works and will stick with it," Dunn said.
When those gathered were asked what skills they wish to see in a new superintendent, replies included someone who would be approachable by parents, a good communicator who can build a consensus, a visionary, someone not far removed from being in a classroom, someone who understands the Southern culture, someone with a proven track record in a similar school system and someone who will deal with discipline problems internally rather than going to police.
When Sundblad asked those gathered what are good qualities about the community, he heard about medical services, strong diversity, a dynamic public library system, servant leadership and good access to quality higher education.
The group said the strengths of the school district are strong magnet programs, good support from the community in the form of Partners in Education and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes and dedicated teachers.
The biggest issues the new superintendent would have to face are, according to the group, poverty, too many schools not prepared to start school, a high suspension of black students, a shrinking budget, and a disparity in north and south Columbus schools.
Five at Northside
Those who stayed away in droves from a public meeting seeking superintendent-search input at Northside High School still have time to contribute online.
Only four people were in Northside's cavernous auditorium Tuesday when the meeting convened at 5:30 p.m., hosted by McPherson & Jacobson consultants John Smith and Debra Van Gorp. A fifth resident came in later.
The group of seven quickly went over the four questions the search firm posed for public input: What are the communities' assets? What are the school district's assets? What are the local issues a new superintendent should be aware of? What skills and talents should the next schools' chief have?
The consultants said folks who missed the forums can answer that quiz online at the school district's website, www.muscogee.k12.ga.us, but they'd better hurry, because the deadline's midnight Sunday. The four women and one man at Northside said Columbus has multiple cultural and educational assets, including Columbus State University and its expansion downtown, Columbus Technical College, The Columbus Museum, the Springer Opera House and the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. Also Fort Benning remains a powerful economic and worldly influence. The school district has programs that serve students well, such as the culinary arts program at Jordan and the international baccalaureate program at Clubview, Richards and Hardaway.
But the district faces issues that are a continual drag on its potential success, they said: state politicians who don't value public education and continually cut its funding; race and class disparities that divide the city north and south, with Macon Road as the perceived borderline; and a school board that seems entrenched and wedded to specific constituencies instead of seeking the best for all students.
"Some of those school members have been on there a long time," said one woman.
"Too long," another added. Neither wanted to be quoted by name.
What sort of superintendent does the Muscogee County School District need?
"They need to have a global perspective on this community," said one woman, noting that Columbus' ethnic diversity is more than just black and white, and the city needs to see beyond that. "Someone who is not money-hungry," she added, referring to the superintendent's six-figure salary. "They don't put the money first."
All five residents said they want the school board to consider internal job candidates.
"We have a lot of good, talented administrators here," said a retired teacher.