If he’s named superintendent of Anniston’s city schools, Matthew Alexander would consider lengthening the school day and the school year for students who need more instruction and setting up a “parent academy” to encourage parents to get more involved.
“I want to win,” Alexander said in a public interview with the school board, the fourth of six candidates to interview for the superintendent job in the last week. “I want to have people on the team – teachers and people who support teachers – who want to win as well.”
Alexander, who has been the superintendent of Barbour County Schools since 2017, took questions from Anniston school board members for nearly two hours Monday at the board’s main office.
Anniston has been searching for a new superintendent since December, when Darren Douthitt resigned from the position. Board members have said they want a leader who can curb the system’s financial woes. State law requires school systems to have one month’s reserve funds on hand, but Anniston’s reserve has dwindled to nothing over the past year.
Alexander said he confronted a similar situation in Barbour County, and had since brought the system’s fund reserves up to about $800,000, above the $600,000 the system needs. He said Barbour County cut costs by eliminating positions in its central office and by finding the funding for new school buses – an expenditure that cut insurance costs and ultimately saved the system money.
“I would make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” he said. He said Anniston might need to consider consolidation of school buildings to save money.
Asked how he would handle his first few months in Anniston, Alexander said he’d listen to stakeholders before developing a plan. That’s an answer most of the other candidates for the job have offered. But Alexander was careful to include students in the list of people he’d consult.
“It’s critical to meet with students,” he said. “The student voice is one of the most powerful things that exists within a school system.”
Alexander said students called his attention to a problem in math instruction in one school. Students said a teacher wasn’t teaching math in a way they could pick it up. Alexander said he found that the teacher was almost exclusively using material from the Alabama Math and Science Teaching Initiative, a program Alexander said was intended to be just a supplement to math instruction.
“We got that corrected very quickly,” he said.
He said Anniston needs an electronic “data dashboard” that would allow administrators to quickly access information about student achievement.
“I believe we have to know in real time where our students are,” he said. “We need to be able to collect the dots and connect the dots.”
Parent involvement, he said, is the key to success in high-performing schools. He said the system should make parent involvement “as mandatory as we can,” possibly by setting up a “parent academy” to give parents a deeper knowledge of how the school system works.
“We can no longer assume that parents understand all the jargon … and what we need from them,” he said.
Before his time in Barbour County, Alexander was operations officer for Birmingham City Schools, federal programs director for DeKalb County Schools and an assistant professor at Savannah State University.
The school board expects to hear from two more candidates this week: Garret Brundage, chief officer for high schools in Rockdale County, Ga; and Donna Ray Hill of BRP Associates in Stockbridge, Ga.