If named superintendent of Anniston City Schools, Angela Bush said Tuesday, she’ll use student data, listening campaigns and quick interventions to turn problems around.
“I don’t see us having multiple opportunities to keep messing up,” Bush said.
Bush, currently the principal of Minor Community School in Jefferson County, is the first of six would-be superintendents to interview with Anniston’s school board. She took questions from all five board members in front of dozens of onlookers during a 75-minute panel interview Tuesday at the school board’s main office.
School board members found themselves suddenly on a superintendent search in December, when former superintendent Darren Douthitt resigned.
With Douthitt’s departure, school board members said they wanted a school leader who could get the city’s finances back on track. The city’s reserve fund dwindled to nothing last year, and school board members said by year’s end that they were in essence running the school system on a line of credit.
Bush toured Anniston schools for most of the day prior to her appearance with the board, but she’s seen them before. She’s a 1989 graduate of Anniston High School who went on to get a doctorate in instructional leadership from Samford University. She has worked in Jefferson County’s school system for her entire career, according to her resume – first as a classroom teacher, then as a federal programs director and school administrator.
“I’m a collaborative leader,” Bush told the board. “More importantly, I value people.”
Collaboration was a theme Bush returned to multiple times over the course of the interview. Asked how she’d handle the first three months on the job, she said she’d first hold listening sessions with the community, then work with staff to create a plan to meet the goals identified by the community. Asked what she’d do to improve teacher and staff morale, she said that if she were teaching she wouldn’t want someone else deciding what would improve her feelings about the job.
“I would like to ask them what we can do to boost their morale,” she said.
Bush cited an example from a school system similar to Anniston – she didn’t name the system – in which schools were spending $300,000 per year on substitutes because low morale led to frequent teacher absences. The administrators’ solution in that case was to offer small bonuses for teachers with few absences.
The plan ultimately saved the system money and improved student outcomes, she said.
“If you’re at school, learning occurs,” she said.
Board members asked how Bush would handle an administrator who was performing poorly. She said she was a believer in collecting and using data on student achievement.
“If we use multiple data points when it’s time to have that conversation, it will be better,” she said. “Nothing speaks better than the facts.”
Few of the questions touched on classroom instruction.
“Eliminating the achievement gap is a moral imperative,” said board member Trudy Munford. She asked how Bush would close that gap.
Bush said she believed in doing formative assessment – quick, informal tests that give a teacher a feel for whether kids are picking up the material – then immediately working with the kids who didn’t get it.
“You can pull those kids into a small group. You don’t want to wait two or three days,” she said.
Board members at first seemed reluctant to talk directly about the school system’s money woes. Board Chairman Robert Houston mentioned “financial opportunities that exist” within the school system.
“Could you be more specific?” Bush asked.
“We don’t have our one-month reserve,” Houston said. “We appear to have too many buildings, et cetera, et cetera.”
Bush said she’d start any budget work by looking at the past five years of the school system’s budgets. She said she’d seek input about the community’s budget priorities – and she said would have to make tough decisions based on the numbers.
“Regardless of how you look at it, one plus one is two and one minus one is zero,” she said.
Marlon Jones, former director of federal programs for the school system, is currently Anniston’s superintendent. He’s one of the finalists for the permanent superintendent job. Also in the running are Matthew Alexander, superintendent of Barbour County Schools; Garrett Brundage, chief officer for high schools in Rockdale County, Ga.; Donna Ray Hill of BRP Associates in Stockbridge, Ga.; and James Martin III, a school improvement specialist with Chattahoochee Flint Regional Education Service Agency in Georgia.
The board has an interview with a second candidate set for Wednesday. Houston said he was “pretty sure” which candidate would be interviewed Wednesday, but he declined to release the name. The schedule the board made public last week has interview dates, with no names included.