Second Superintendent Finalist Forum Frustrates Attendees

by Dalton Main on June 8, 2011

The second of two finalists for superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools answered questions last night at a public hearing. But local teacher Marsha Spears was not satisfied with what Dr. Donna Hargens of North Carolina had to say.

“I don’t feel like she actually answered many of the questions, when asked what her beliefs were or what she thought, I don’t think she came through with that,” says Spears “she reverted to her experiences or what they had done, but I was never clear on what she actually thought or believed about much.”

According to Spears, neither Dr. Hargens or the first candidate–Dr. Christine Johns-Haines of Michigan–seemed well-versed on the issues facing Jefferson County Public Schools. But, Spears says Dr. Johns-Haines gave more examples of how she could put her experience to good use for JCPS. Spears, as well as others at the forum, also criticized Hargens’s focus on data.

Spears was further disappointed in the attendance for the public forums with each candidate, echoing the sentiments of some at Monday night’s forum. Spears didn’t seem enthused about either candidate bu did say she preferred Johns-Haines.

Dr. Hargens is the second of two finalists for the position. She told the crowd she’s ready to identify and solve the district’s problems.

“My leadership style is collaborative and I don’t like to waste people’s time,” Hargens says “if their expertise isn’t needed to solve a problem, you know you don’t need everybody solving every problem, so I think you need to identify what the problem is and who the right people need to be at the table.”

Hargens is Chief Academic officer for Wake County Public schools in North Carolina, where she stepped down as interim superintendent last year. She guided the schools through enormous controversy over a student assignment plan before relinquishing her post.  She says her experience in the 18th-largest district in the nation will help her in Kentucky’s largest school district here in Jefferson County.

Hargens, however, has no experience as a superintendent.  She was passed over as a finalist for a smaller North Carolina County prior to assuming her role in Wake County.

The other finalist for the superintendent position is Dr. Christine Johns-Haines, who is currently superintendent of Utica Community Schools in Michigan. She spoke with the public on Monday.

Dr. Hargens, though, touted her experience with the 18th-largest school district in the nation. Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina is a district with 143,000 students.

“This is a large school system and the skills that I have developed over my career fit perfectly,” Hargens says “and there’s also a wonderful community here that really wants to support and embrace education and that’s the kind of place I want to be in.”

The head of the school board has repeatedly said the next superintendent must support the JCPS student assignment plan.

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