Community doesn’t hold back during input session for Roanoke City Schools’ superintendent search

Executive search firm will present list of candidates to school board later this spring

ROANOKE, Va. – The company hired by Roanoke City Schools to help find the next superintendent hosted a public input meeting on Tuesday night for feedback on the search.

The meeting was one of eleven, as the consultants met with others and even toured some schools in their time visiting Roanoke. The meeting drew about 50 people, and they did not hold back, making it clear they want change in the division. The meeting lasted about two hours and the audience chimed in for most of that time. While the meeting did create some friction at points, most said they felt it was productive.

The consultants asked four simple, yet open-ended questions of the crowd: What do people like about Roanoke?; What do people like about the school division?; What are the issues and challenges?; and What do you want to see in the next superintendent?

Consultant Ralph Ferrie and his partner of McPherson & Jacobson wanted to get the good, the bad and the ugly from those in attendance. Ferrie said they were able to walk away with a clear priority.

“(We know) how important it is to them that the school board and our search firm get the next superintendent right," Ferrie said.

The firm will compile all the feedback from this meeting, the previous meetings and the online survey to share with the board and the public. A big concern Tuesday night was community involvement. Some in the crowd felt that just sharing opinions was not enough, and they want to be involved in the actual selection process with an active role at the table.

School board members and administration staff specifically did not attend the meeting to create a no-pressure atmosphere. Board Vice-Chair Lutheria Smith said the school board is set to make the hire, not a selection committee, and when briefed on the community’s request to have a vote in the final selection, said the board will review the feedback and go from there.

“I think the board hasn’t made any final decisions, and certainly and we are again, as I said, waiting to get that feedback and we will consider it," Smith said.

The meeting didn’t come without friction, however. Many in the crowd used their answers to complain about retiring superintendent Rita Bishop. Some others questioned if Ferrie and his partner, two white men, were the right people to lead the search for an urban division.

Ferrie responded citing his track record both as a consultant and an educator in inner-city divisions across the country. While he did receive the feedback he was looking for in-between some of the more tense moments, he said he heard the concerns.

“People are passionate about the most important thing in their lives, their most important component of their lives, which is their children," Ferrie said.

Most of all, parents wanted their chance to give input in whatever form they could. The audience ranged from parents, to grandparents, faith leaders and even young, childless adults in the community. Many people did share positives about the division and the work it’s completed so far.

Parent Kim McNeil made it clear she knows it’s not just the consultants who have a job to do.

“We have to make sure that we do everything that we can, that we are present, that we show up, but also that we are looking for solutions, that we are not creating a culture of hate," McNeil said.

The division hopes to have the short list of candidates by April, complete interviews in May and make a hire by the beginning of June.

An online community input survey is still open here.

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