Question 14: If there is a conflict between different community groups in the district over a particular issue, how would you resolve it? Please site specific examples that you’ve used in the past.
Spencer: One, we have to make sure that we listen. One, we have to make sure that we’re collaborating, we have to make sure we’re having a transparent conversation. To give you a situation, we had to combine two schools . . . in combining those two schools we had to really begin to bring the groups to the table and really lay on the table as a product of conversation, what are the resources that we carry with the two schools separated, what will the resources be when we begin to combine the two schools, how can we support the kids at these two schools . . . In talking with those community groups and having a conversation with those community groups, we began to get an understanding of why they did not want these schools to combine . . . Once we begin to lay out what the issue are then we can begin to have a conversation as to a resolution or a solution to those particular issues . . . I think the important piece is to make sure that we listen, the important piece is to ask questions, the important piece is to make sure that we’re collaborative in the process, we’re honest in the process, we’re transparent about the process . . . When we left that table, we were all on the same page with making sure that kids were getting the best . . . Once we finished and combined those schools and finished the conversation and really pulled those schools together, we continued the conversation with the parents, we invited the parents to come to the school . . . to see what experiences you kids will actually have at this particular location . . .
Vargas: Dealing with conflict, don’t personalize, deal with the issue, deal with the facts, be evidence based driven, not necessarily around personalities . . .
Question 15: As superintendent, what will be your role in the budgetary process? Please specify.
Spencer: One, as superintendent, is really beginning to look at the strategic direction and making sure that our budget is aligned with the strategic direction of the district. Two, I think it’s definitely important that we safeguard the classroom at all cost . . . making sure that we are not taking resources from the classroom. In addition to that . . . whenever possible, making sure that we’re protecting people because that’s what’s going to make the district operate . . . Does that mean that no one will be affected, no that does not mean that so don’t be misled in thinking that that means that particular piece. But when we begin to have open and honest conversation about that budget process . . . we make the community a part of the conversation. So when we start talking about allocating resources and allocating monies to support ex, we have to then use what we call our School Based Decision Making Team . . . consist[ing] of parents, it consists of community members, it consists of teachers, the principal is a part of that particular piece, and then also sometimes there are Central Office folks that are a part of that team, and in some cases there are students. But collectively we work together to begin to develop a budget that is going to be cohesive and meet the needs of their schools. And once we do that we then transition into making sure that everyone recognizes what those resources are so we have to share, schools have to share those budgets with their communities and get input from their community. And once we come back to the table from getting the input from the communities then schools are able to move forward with allocating with what they have done with their budgets.
Vargas: My role is very clear, the superintendent has to set the priority for the district along with the Board of Education. My role is to work with the School Board, set the priority around budget issues. And to me, it’s the school, it’s the classroom, it’s the socio-emotional support as well as academic support . . . It’s just like any budget, I will repeat, that part of my work will be to make sure that whatever budget is put forward, that has the reflection of what we say we’re all about. So, one of the roles of the superintendent is to set the priority and allocate resources accordingly.
Question 16: I wish there wasn’t as much fighting in school, what will you do about it?
Spencer: We have to begin to get out into the community . . . When we start looking at a school we have to realize that the school is a reflection of our community. And as we go an address issues in schools, we also have to go into the community and get an understanding of what can we do to support in the community. I’m not saying that we’re going to resolve community issues . . . we need to partner with the community so that we can become a part of the process to resolve the issues in the community. So when we start looking at students who are having difficulty or students who are fighting in the community or in the schools, I think it’s important for us to want to begin to address the social-emotional needs of those particular students. And in addressing the social-emotional needs of those students we can begin to work with those students from a standpoint of the same manner in which we work with our special ed students . . . why is it that we do not have a behavioral plan if we see that there is a consistent issue that’s affecting the student. It’s not to label the student, it is really to identify specific areas where we need to begin to address. So if we’re talking about allocating resources for that particular student, if there is a student that needs to see a Social Worker, then that student needs to see a Social Worker. If there’s a student that needs an additional opportunity to have some relationship building with an adult then the student should have that opportunity. But all of that should be included in that
particular student’s plan.
Vargas: I would like to, for us to have, at a very early age, more conflict resolution . . . Tim Mains’ school is one of the few schools, if not the only school that has conflict resolution in place. That would be part of one of my approaches. As I visited schools throughout this school year, I noticed also a level of tension, and we’re spending so much money around safety, you know we need to teach Civics at a very early age, how to get along. We need to build a school culture where students appreciate each other, the teachers are appreciated, the parents are appreciated, a culture that has dignity. And dignity is about respecting one another. It’s not going to happen because we say, but there are models like conflict resolution, non-violent approaches, teaching kids about those concepts at a very early age is extremely important. I also believe that it is extremely for the community to play a key role in this regard. I do believe that violence that occurs in the community sometimes continued into the school . . . we must, at a very early age and through high school begin to deal with this problem and the most important approach that I know, the most effective . . . is conflict resolution and building a culture that has an appreciation for each child. The adults demonstrate that, the children have to demonstrate that to one another. There is nothing more powerful than school culture . . . you cannot do this work without engaging the students.
Question 17: What if after three years you will be offered a job in another school district, are you going to accept that position, how long have you stayed in jobs in the past?
Spencer: I’m here for the long haul. I’m not in this to come and hit it and miss. When I look at Rochester, I do see a reflection of Baltimore. I see kids who have great potential but kids who also need opportunities. And once we provide them those opportunities I think that they’re going to do great things. If you look at my track record in Baltimore, I stayed in Baltimore for fourteen years of my educational career. From there I went to Houston and I’ve been in Houston for the past two years. I don’t need to have a stepping stone for a position . . . My goal is to make sure that I’m going to be here and I’m going to serve the community for a very long time. My goal is to be the best, the absolute best in America . . . I’m about consistency.
Vargas: My last job was twenty years. I am committed to Rochester and I also will tell you that if you’re looking for a superintendent that could change this district in one, two, three, years, you’re looking at the wrong person. This is hard work, and it’s not the work of one person, it’s the work of all of us . . . I’m here because I also would like to see some results. You will not see the results that I would be proud of in three years . . . My commitment is to Rochester, it is my hope that I could stay here for the long term. Changing the district or changing the school is not easy work, it’s hard work and it takes time, and it takes community, and it is the job of a leader to bring all of us into a team to do that. One other thing that I am excited about Rochester is that I think that there are possibilities, the possibilities here are enormous.
Question 18: What do you consider to be your major strength as an administrator, what have you targeted for yourself personally and professionally as far as improvement goes?
Spencer: . . . I have a dynamic way of working with data . . . I have a very critical eye of looking at data, and when I say data I’m not necessarily talking about numbers because data comes in all shapes and fashions. But when we begin to look at data we should be able to make connections, we should be able to make parallels, we should be able to identify where our various weaknesses are as well as where our areas of strength may be. And then once we identify those particular pieces then we put something in place to address them or we put something in place to improve it. So, using data is definitely an area of strength . . . In addition to that, relationship building is a strength for me . . . Looking at areas where I can improve . . . I am definitely a workaholic . . . I know how to balance but I also know that there’s always more that needs to be done and I’m always striving to do more and more . . . the improvement would be, how do I then come to Rochester, how do I really begin to get to know who you are as a community group, how do I begin to get to know who you are as a district as well as letting you know who I am, how do I begin to develop community advisory groups so that we can have some authentic conversations about how we can move forward as a district . . .
Vargas: My major strength is priority. Every leader has to be clear in his priority, without that you are not going to be successful. I think I have demonstrated that. The other thing is the ability to be able to work collaboratively with multiple contingencies . . . You have to be mission driven . . . what is clear to me is that it’s about impacting the lives of our kids, student achievement in every child, not only to graduate but also to be prepared to be an effective citizen, not just a worker . . . Mission driven, clear priorities is important, and values. A leader without clear values is someone that will be lost or someone that will change their mind according to the weather . . . I would say the area for improvement for me would be . . . that I have not much patience is when it comes to the needs of our students . . . I think that I can do the work well but I can improve. That is the most challenging for a superintendent is balancing all these interests that you have . . . A superintendent, at least this one, doesn’t have all the skill set that are necessary to run a complex organization like this. A superintendent has to have a team, in place, that can provide the knowledge, and information, and skill set that is required to run a complex organization like this . . . The superintendent that believes or the leader who believe they possess all the skill set necessary to run a complex organization like this is one that I believe is misguided and I consider recognizing this is part of my strength.
It is now up to each of us to consider the responses of the candidates and ask the question, “Did this process produce an individual I want to lead our district or should we revisit the process and search for someone more suited to the qualities we, as a community, want as superintendent?”
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