Brandon Payne has spent his entire professional career in Cullman County, and after seeing the system function at almost every level, he believes he’s up to the task to become the board’s first appointed superintendent.
“I think, first and foremost, I don’t believe you’ll have anyone else who will love Cullman County more,” the Vinemont High principal said. “Understand my children are going to graduate from here, and I truly think we have some of the greatest schools with the greatest people. I know that in my heart ... I’d be honored to be superintendent, even with the big shoes to fill.”
Payne was the first of five candidates to interview for the position, and interviews are set to run the remainder of this week and continue into Monday of next week. All interviews will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the central office board room.
Along with Payne, Dr. Jason Wright interviewed Wednesday night; Dr. Craig Ross will interview Thursday, April 24; Dr. William McCown will interview Friday, April 25; and Dr. Tena Elisabeth Davis will interview Monday, April 28.
The position is set to open on July 1, following the planned retirement of elected superintendent Billy Coleman. Both Coleman and the school board campaigned to have the system changed over the past several years.
Payne cited his 18 years of experience at every level of Cullman County schools, from principal in elementary to central office posts handling technology integration.
When asked about the most challenging moment in his career, Payne cited his start at Vinemont High School more than two years ago. At the time, the school had a flagging graduation rate and was listed under School Improvement by the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress system. Now, Payne noted the school is hitting its standards and has increased its graduation rate from 71 percent to 84 percent.
“I analyzed data from the past five years, then met with teachers individually to gather their input,” he said. “I also met with the district leadership people and school improvement people, and through that developed a leadership team, which transcended into a continuous improvement plan.”
Payne noted communication as a major tool he would use, outlining his philosophy that would drive the way he relayed information to both the community and the school board.
“You must always be proactive, because you want to tell your story and get out the information that’s critical to the success of those kids. If we’re not doing that, we’re not serving our kids appropriately,” he said. “For example, I currently use Twitter for our school, to put out information and congratulate our kids. When you get into that realm, you’re touching a lot of people. The vital part is you try to broadcast your communication where everybody has a chance to get it.”
Payne said he would also strive to cultivate and protect the connections between the school board and the community, including the symbiotic relationship between the system’s career technical center and local industries.
“We need to stay committed to meeting their needs, so they stay committed to meeting ours,” he said.
When asked about his views on financial and capital project management, Payne said he would take a prudent approach to growth and spending to ensure the system is never in a position as dire as it was in recent years, when proration cut the system almost to the red.
“It’s a priority for the superintendent to ensure they’re as informed as possible on funding, sources of funding and reporting all of that back to the board,” he said. “The board and this system have gone through tough economic times in recent years, as many have, and the system has made great strides through it. We have to be accountable for every dollar raised, and every dollar that comes in through tax dollars.”
After serving a stint handling technology integration at a systemwide level, Payne said he’s become an evangelist for additional upgrades and technological programs to offer new services and devices to students. Payne touted plans for a 1:1 device initiative, as well as continued infrastructure upgrades so new platforms could be maintained.
“Students today are digital natives, and these children have grown up with these tools. I’ve listened to little kids talking about wanting to do it on the iPad, or laptop, because that’s a way they learn now,” he said. “I want to make sure we provide the infrastructure and background to protect our kids, while providing new services, and ensure our teachers have the proper training... The ACCESS program been a huge part of our turnaround on the graduation rate, and as superintendent, that’d be my vision to take that across our entire system.”
Payne also elaborated on his general management style, and noted he’d make an effort to empower employees and make them an active part of the process to allow teachers and administrators to “buy in” to the system.
“Focus on responsibility instead of accountability, because a person working from responsibility is doing the job on a daily basis the way it needs to be done because they want to do it,” he said. “Accountability means I’m going to do it the right way, because I know you’re coming back to check on me. But, I understand we have to have accountability, and to ensure that’ll happen, we educate people to know how they’re going to be accountable. That’s a great thing Mr. Coleman has done, cultivating that spirit of responsibility.”
When asked his potential long-term goals for the system, Payne produced a written plan and provided copies to the entire school board. He noted Coleman’s role in getting the system into a position to excel, with new sources of revenue and programs, and said he believes he has the vision to reach those goals.
“I see tremendous potential, the setup has been made great, and we’re on the path from fiscal instability to stability,” he said. “I think we want to continue to move forward and be sure we will not fall back into that kind of situation and continue to rise. I want to see continued expansion in availability for career tech, increases in dual enrollment and AP courses, and support our high schools in getting that done. I think we could have a fully-developed 1:1 device program in that two year timeline... I’m quick to change, I enjoy change, and I understand as a school administrator the need to ensure proper supports are in place.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.