Group: Leader search is crucial

Legislators say district superintendent will have long-term effect

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Because of current rapid technological innovation and continual changes in workforce requirements, members of the Sumter County Legislative Delegation say they think Sumter School District's upcoming superintendent search represents a "monumental" decision for the community.

Delegation members shared their thoughts on Tuesday with Sumter School District's Board of Trustees during their joint meeting at the district office on educational issues related to the upcoming legislative session and followed up with more comments Thursday.

State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said every agenda item the school board shared with the delegation at their meeting this week - including the school bus shortage and teacher shortage - is important to education in Sumter, but the board's most critical decision this school year will be the choice of the next superintendent.

"I think one of your biggest priorities is your selection of a next superintendent," Smith said Tuesday. "That's going to be monumental for this community. I really think that's one of the largest decisions that this community is going to make. And it's going to be a decision that is going to be with us for the next generation."

Board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney and other school board members said they agreed on Tuesday with Smith's opinion. McGhaney, the board's spokesman, did not return messages for additional comments by Thursday evening.

Smith said he trusts the board's work and thinks it is committed to the search process.

Given constant technological changes in the global economy now, Smith said he thinks it's a "transformational time for education locally, statewide and nationwide." According to Smith, education is more technical now than it was in previous decades and involves balancing several components from "college readiness" to vocational skills in the high-skills, 21st-century workforce.

He said he hopes the board chooses someone in touch with this changing landscape of education, a person who will understand the workforce skill sets needed by local business and industry for the Sumter community to move forward and make progress.

Smith said he thinks Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm has brought visionary, new ideas to the district since she began her position Aug. 1. He said he hopes the next superintendent will also embrace innovative ideas and concepts.

Hamm has said she intends to serve as interim superintendent for the district until the next, full-time superintendent begins the post, which will likely be next summer - after the current school year concludes.

Smith said he thinks the board - or any community leader for that matter - doesn't need to dwell on the past selections for superintendent but focus on the characteristics that are needed now in the person.

The delegation knows the superintendent selection is the board's decision, but Smith said delegation members will help the trustees in any way they desire assistance.

State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said he agreed with Smith that the school board's superintendent selection will have far-reaching implications and may be the key issue facing Sumter at this time.

"Obviously, it's going to be incumbent on our school board to find the person who has the skills to oversee the daily operations of a large, consolidated school district, but more importantly to ensure that education in Sumter is being administered in a way that's going to prepare our children for whatever further education and/or career opportunities that they decide to pursue," he said.