Surry School Board seeks community input during superintendent search

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: January 2, 2020 | 3:15 p.m.

SURRY – The recently announced Dec. 31 retirement of Dr. Michael Thornton as Surry County Schools Superintendent has the county’s school board tasked with searching for a suitable replacement. According to school board chairman Laura Pierce-Ruffin, the board felt that the decision was important enough to justify a $6,500 fee for the assistance of the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) in the search, and that the most important part of the search is a survey that they hope to have completed by every citizen of the county interested in seeing that the best candidate is selected.

Ruffin said that although the local board will make the ultimate choice as to who will be the new superintendent, they elected to engage the services of the VSBA for a nationwide search because “they have extensive experience in conducting superintendent searches in Virginia.”  She listed the organizational tools they offer, such as conducting the citizens’ survey, as being crucial to the board’s ability to make the right selection.

“And we do urge everyone to participate by filling out one of the survey forms, so that we will know going into it what the citizens of our county most expect and value in a school superintendent,” Ruffin said. 

Describing the process used by the VSBA, Ruffin said, “It starts from the very beginning.  We were given a timeline for everything and they’ll make sure we stay within those timelines.  It’s very organized in seeing that everything is done, and we feel that it’s a structured process that will allow us to draw from a pool of qualified candidates.”

The calendar recommended by the VSBA and adopted by the school board is as follows: 

  •  October 28, 2019 Announcement to the public of Superintendent Search with VSBA 
  •  January 7, 2020 Deadline for Surveys 
  •  January 7, 2020 Public Hearing at 7 p.m. at Luther Porter Jackson Middle School
  •  January 8, 2020 Board meets to establish qualifications 
  •  January 9, 2020 Provide established qualifications to VSBA 
  •  January 10– February 7, 2020 Receive applications 
  •  February 18, 2020 (tentative) Second meeting with the VSBA 
  •  February/March Interviews with candidates 
  •  March/April Announcement of person selected 

When asked why the calendar allows for a six months delay in hiring a new superintendent Ruffin responded that the steps in the organized process recommended by the VSBA generally take six months to complete.

“We will be hiring an acting superintendent in the meantime,” Ruffin added, explaining that that also is part of the VSBA process. 

Ruffin described the process as “very inclusive” and emphasized that, while the VSBA will offer a list of qualified or eligible candidates, it does not exclude the application of anyone interested in the position. She also said that they just want to be very  careful and thorough in their search  because the ultimate decision as to whom to hire to fill the position is “one of the most important tasks a School Board can make.” 

“We used that same process to come up with Dr. Thornton,” Ruffin added.

“And it is so important that we get the community input to see what they would like to see for a candidate to serves the school and community well,” she said.  “So most of all we hope that they will participate in this survey.  We want to know how they feel, what they want to see in our next superintendent.”

The survey, related to superintendent criteria, is available online at on the home page of the school division website at  Ruffin indicated that hard copies of the survey also are available at the school board administration offices, at each school’s library, and that some local businesses and churches have procured copies to share with the community as well.

The survey gives respondents the opportunity to check qualities and characteristics they want to see in a candidate, running the gamut from education and training to enthusiasm and sense of humor, and then allows for ranking the importance of each item. 

According to Ruffin, surveys will be available until and including the night of the Public Hearing on Jan. 7.

“We, as board members, will not see the forms,” she added.  “We only get the compiled results, and I think that’s a good thing.  We truly hope that all parents and other interested citizens who realize what an important role the school superintendent plays in the county will fill out a survey now, and attend the public hearing.”  

“Hiring a new superintendent is an important task for the school board,” she reiterated, “and we encourage the public to participate in the process of determining qualifications for our next superintendent. We hope that all community members will take time to fill out the online survey or attend the public hearing.”

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