Meeting with student stakeholders group

Dr. Bobby Lester (left) and Dr. Ken James meet with 12 socially distanced students in the Searcy High School Performing Arts Center for a stakeholders meeting in the search process for the district’s next superintendent.

The search for Searcy School District’s next superintendent entered into the stakeholder meetings stage Tuesday.

Lead search consultant Dr. Ken James and Dr. Bobby Lester met at different times in the Performing Arts Center at the high school campus with five groups who voiced their input on qualities they are looking for in the next superintendent. The groups were made up of administrators, students, classified staff, teachers and community members.

The district is looking to replace Superintendent Diane Barrett, who is retiring June 30.

Each meeting was set for one hour and the groups had the opportunity to give their answers to questions concerning the next superintendent. The answers will be compiled for the School Board to use as a tool in their selection process.

The closing date for applicants is March 1. The finalists will be presented to the School Board on March 17. April 2 is the target date for hiring the new superintendent.

The administrators group was made up of 13 individuals, including assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals and the athletic director.

The first question the group was presented was “What are the great assets of the Searcy community?”

Answers from the group included that Searcy is a community that comes together as a unified group to support things such as the fourth season of “Small Business Revolution – Main Street” that resulted in Searcy getting the most votes and receiving national recognition from the online show that helped six small businesses refuel their marketing efforts and execution in 2019.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sheena Williamson said she thinks people would be attracted to the hunting and fishing in the area and the close proximity to an urban big city. She said family amenities are available for people to enjoy.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Marc Sherrell said Searcy is not a small town but it’s not a large town, “so it has things to offer and it’s closer to Little Rock, it’s closer to Jonesboro. I tell you the No. 1 thing you can put is that there’s not very many mosquitoes.”

Lester said although hunting and fishing were mentioned, he wanted to know what other things were available in town for women. He wondered about the arts and humanities. Civic groups were mentioned by group members.

One group member said traffic was not an issue in Searcy like it is in places like Cabot. Someone else said Searcy had good walking trails.

Williamson said the next superintendent may have a spouse who is looking for employment when they arrive. She said there is local industry as well as employment opportunities in the Little Rock area in close proximity.

The amount of small businesses that Searcy has was presented as a good thing to attract people. It was mentioned that it just wasn’t Walmart and Hobby Lobby that are in Searcy.

Good community support was talked about, like when Harding Academy and Searcy High School both won football state championships in 2019 and combined the parade to honor both teams.

A group member said she felt her own kids were getting a private education at a public school price in the Searcy schools. “That was very comforting to me as a mom,” she said.

Williamson said from the custodial staff to the central office staff, wherever they are needed on a given day, is where they will be. “We have some of the most dedicated teachers that I have ever worked with,” she said.

Searcy Athletic Director Butch Schucker told Lester and James that Searcy has outstanding facilities for choir, drama and athletics. He brought up the field house, bowling and swimming, adding that they have an outstanding facility. He said the conferences for athletics were very competitive.

Lester asked about the curriculum. Searcy High School Principal Gene Hodges said they utilize ASU-Beebe’s Searcy campus for a lot of technical skills such as welding and auto body. “As far as going to college, I would say we are as good as any school.”

Lester asked if Searcy’s transportation department was up to date and was told by the group that is was.

The next question was about what skills the new superintendent would have to possess to be successful in Searcy. “Being focused and having a direction in mind” was the answer from a group member. Being “researched-based and knowing what this community is about” was another answer. Great communication skills and being connected to the community like “Mrs. Barrett” is was another answer given by a group member.

“What key issues does the new superintendent need to know about?” was the final question the group answer.

Schucker said a big issue in athletics now is that the district is building a competition gym. “It is on pause right now, but when the new superintendent comes in he or she is going to hear and it’s going to be hit the ground running.”

Williamson said she thinks it’s important to say “sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.”

James asked about “hot button issues.” One group member said each year there is just a little bit of decline in enrollment and that does affect things overall. Being aware of that and finding ways to draw people back into the district was also called important for the new superintendent.

Lester told the administrators group if they knew anyone who wanted to apply that they should “put a bug in their ear” and have them do that.

During the meeting, Lester and James also asked if any of the assistant superintendents present would be applying for the superintendent position and they both said no. If they said yes, they would have had to leave the group.

Williamson volunteered to be the point of contact for the administrators group for the search team.

All groups will get the chance to meet with the superintendent finalists for an hour in Searcy for their interview day.

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