Little Rock School District superintendent candidate says schoolwork is a mission | SehndeWeb

George “Eric” Thomas, one of two finalists to be superintendent of the Little Rock School District, said Wednesday his role as a leader is to bring people together to accomplish the mission of saving student lives.

“I think we’re in the business of survival,” Thomas said in a public forum where he spoke about the importance of “collective impact,” strategic planning, using data and talent development to accomplish the work of the school system of 21,000 students. .

“I’ve spent a lot of time in church, I’m a minister’s son. It’s missionary work,” he told an audience of about 40 in the late afternoon. noon. He also called teaching “the hardest job on the planet”.

Thomas, 53, a native of Savannah who now lives in Atlanta, is an educational leadership consultant affiliated with the University of Virginia. He is a former assistant superintendent/chief school turnaround officer for the Georgia Board of Education and in that capacity provided advice to eight school districts in an effort to improve some of the state’s worst performing schools. He is a former high school social studies teacher, principal, and chief innovation officer in Cincinnati’s 35,000 public school students.

Thomas and Jermall Wright, superintendent of the Mississippi Achievement School District which is a combination of the Yazoo City and Humphreys County school systems, are the finalists for the Little Rock position now held by Mike Poore, who will retire at the end of this school year. .

Thomas toured schools in the district, meeting with parents, students, and business and community leaders, including Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., before having dinner and speaking with school board members Wednesday night.

Wright had followed a similar schedule earlier this week.

The Little Rock School Board is not expected to meet to discuss next steps in the search process until early next week.

Organized in his presentation and animated as he walked across the front of the room, Thomas used a short slide presentation and excerpt from Liam Nelson’s film “Taken” to highlight his work history and commitment to tapping into all possible resources to achieve its objectives. .

He handed out business-like cards bearing a QR code that takes the viewer to a 20-page information package, including a letter to Little Rock District stakeholders and charts showing downward trends in averages. test scores and student enrollment in the Little Rock District.

The package also includes Thomas’ three-phase entry plan which would begin in May and includes meeting with community leaders, reviewing documents, visiting schools, working with staff and ultimately preparing for the project. opening of the school in August.

“Using the lens of my history teacher…I believe my background (i.e. history, data) confirms why I am the right choice: I am ready to lead the transformation of the district; I understand the political commitment and board leadership required; and I am committed to ensuring that this 5-10 year transformation becomes a model for urban education,” he said. written at the end of the file.

Thomas told the forum he doesn’t walk around with 20 solutions in his pocket – although he said he has “a pretty good toolbox” of ideas to benefit the district – in part because of his work as chief innovation officer in Ohio during a time when there was the infusion of Race to the Top federal money to transform school districts.

Those innovations in Cincinnati included the creation of a digital academy, a few gifted and talented education academies, and the adoption of the New Tech High School National Model Curriculum, he said.

The district revamped its teacher evaluation system to make it more supportive. It also provided space in schools for community partners to provide health care and other comprehensive services to students and their families.

The Ohio district was able to increase enrollment by about 5,000 students in eight years, he said, later adding that a school district should do just about anything but close a school. Closing a campus risks driving families to competing schools such as charter schools, he said, causing enrollment to drop further in the district.

In 2012, Thomas left Cincinnati to become Director of Support for the University of Virginia’s Education Leaders Partnership Program, where he mentored superintendents in different parts of the country on ways to make lasting improvements to their operations.

“In 2017…the Rand Corporation identified our approach as the nation’s most effective school improvement strategy,” Thomas said.

Asked Wednesday how he would deal with Little Rock District’s test results, which are below state averages, Thomas said most districts try to budget and carry out too many initiatives — often for no other reason than they have always done. A strategic plan in which stakeholders agree on three or four main objectives avoids shooting in the dark, he said.

He later said that his research for his doctorate focused on the characteristics of superintendents who were successful in transforming districts. These leaders prioritized engagement with their school boards and community and spent more time on teacher and principal retention than those in districts that did not change.

Thomas said preschool programs are fundamental to student success in kindergarten and first grade, and wondered if federal covid-19 relief money could be used to kick-start expansion of the pre-school initiative. kindergarten in the district.

In response to a question about his vision for a career and technical education, Thomas said it was important for students to complete grades five and six with the ability to do grade-level work so they can move on to career and college readiness programs in middle and high schools. .

Regarding the question of whether fights on campus should warrant legal action, such as assault, Thomas said the larger conversation needs to focus on why fights happen and what action should be taken. to take to prevent fights.

“We need strategies for building relationships,” he said of the students with each other and with adults. He said “restorative practices”, an alternative to more traditional student suspensions or other disciplines, “is not a bad concept”. But, he said, if not implemented properly — involving all relevant teachers, students and administrators — it can make a school feel like “everything is happening.”

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