Community groups talk to consultants about hopes for new schools superintendent

January 05, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

About 30 people attended focus groups Wednesday to share with consultants what they want to see in a new schools superintendent and what challenges that person will face in Washington County.

Many of the answers were similar to those given during a Tuesday focus group of school system employees.

Common characteristics the groups are looking for in a new superintendent are being a good communicator, a risk-taker, an innovator, collaborative, a visionary, politically savvy, and personable. They also want someone who has a doctorate, puts students first, supports specialized education programs such as magnet programs, and will continue to help the school system improve.

Common challenges participants noted include a fiscally conservative community, an aging infrastructure, union and pension negotiations, the political and financial landscape, a diverse student population and its need for services, and Race to the Top, a federal education reform initiative.

Almost 20 people attended the afternoon focus group session aimed at business and community leaders and held at the Central Office, while only 12 people attended one for the general public Wednesday night at Washington County Technical High School.

Consultants will sift through the groups’ ideas, looking for common threads, said Kitty Blumsack, one of the consultants. The board hired the Maryland Association of Boards of Education to help conduct the search for a new superintendent.

The school board will get a list of the focus groups’ ideas as well as ideas and comments from individuals, Blumsack said. People can submit their suggestions until Jan. 10 by e-mailing Blumsack at or by filling out a form at the Central Office or online at

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan will retire at the end of February.

The board’s goal is to hire a new superintendent by June 30. Lead consultant William Middleton said, under state law, superintendents must sign four-year contracts that begin July 1. School boards can get around the July 1 start date by naming a person as interim superintendent, he said.

At the afternoon session, Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, provided a copy of a list of ideas several local business leaders came up with in regards to the search. The group of business leaders included Poffenberger and James Kercheval, executive director for the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

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