By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Dr. Tena Elisabeth Davis doesn’t have any very close connection to Cullman County, but if she is hired as the system’s new schools superintendent, she says she would work harder than anyone to start building those ties.
Davis, who currently serves as Tuscaloosa City Schools’ assistant superintendent of curriculum, was the final candidate to interview for the Cullman County Board of Education’s opening Wednesday night and touted her tireless work ethic as a key factor in why she would be a good choice for the job.
“You won’t find anyone who will work harder. I’m a workaholic. Work is all I know how to do,” she said. “I’m a true proponent that you’re only as good as your leader, but you have to form a team. With how quickly things change, we don’t even know what we’re preparing these students for, so we have to stay current and continue to change. That would always be my goal, to make sure we’re preparing our kids to be world-class citizens.”
Davis was the last of five candidates to interview for the position over the past two weeks.
Along with Davis, Dr. Brandon Payne interviewed last Tuesday night, Dr. Jason Wright interviewed last Wednesday night, Dr. Craig Ross interviewed last Thursday night, and Dr. William McCown interviewed last Friday night.
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.
The board hopes to choose a candidate in early-to-mid May, and has set a board meeting for Monday, May 12 at 6:30 p.m. to potentially make an offer. A work session is also scheduled to immediately follow the meeting.
The minimum salary for the position is $115,000, with a final contract negotiable based on experience and demonstrated success.
Throughout her career in both administration, central office roles and the classroom, Davis said she has developed a deep set of organizational and planning skills that can adapt to every level of a system.
“This has been a long-term goal of mine, as I’ve moved up through leadership roles,” she said. “Leadership has always been innate in me, to see how you can touch lives. With a system like this, with such a strong foundation and a community that supports education, you can take it to the next level. I’ve led the strategic planning process and gone through that process, and the goal at the central office is to put strategies in place that help meet the board’s goals and the system’s goals.”
When asked how she would communicate within the system and community, Davis said she would conduct “listening tours” to meet with students, teachers and parents about pros and cons of the system.
“You listen to all the needs, of course you can’t fix them all, but it’s key to listen,” she said. “So we could come back as an executive team to look at what we’ve learned and look at the data. Another part of the learning phase is to find out how to meet those needs and effectively communicate.”
Davis said she sees the superintendent as a person tasked with handling a system’s day-to-day operations and implementing the board’s larger plan for future success.
“The board’s role is setting the big picture, and doing what’s best for the system as a whole,” she said. “The superintendent’s role is to manage and operate those tasks and to let you know when issues occur. That requires open communication to let the board know what is happening, knowing the board will set that big picture direction, and then as superintendent you work to meet those goals.”
When asked how she would handle tough decisions as superintendent, Davis touted her experience in a previous position that required her to do demographic studies and rethink the positioning and zoning for different schools, due to shifting enrollment numbers.
“You couldn’t afford to build a new school so we looked at a reconfiguration. Part of the outlook is where you can’t build, but might be able to shift, depending on the population,” she said. “For example, a tornado wiped out two of our schools, and it was key we built that school back, so what we did was through collaboration, we’re building it back as a performing arts school. We knew we had to do something different, or we’d continue to lose enrollment.”
She also noted experience dealing with technology implementation, with her current system in the infancy stages of rolling out device plans and making decisions on different software platforms.
“We tried to outline more than device or technology, but what we want 21st century students to come out of school being able to do. The infrastructure wasn’t where we needed it to be, so we’ve spent some time upgrading that through grant funds,” she said. “Then, we started doing research, looking at 1:1 programs, and we want to be a system that focuses on the use of technology. I mean, kids log in as soon as they walk out of school, so why ask them to log off when they go in? We need to provide a wide range of resources for our educators.”
While discussing her 90 day plan, Davis said she would spend her first few months getting acclimated with the area and listening to teachers and community members in an effort to start work on a comprehensive plan for the future.
“The key thing I saw going around the system was, it’s obvious this system is in no dire need and you already have a culture of community,” she said. “Nothing says that, on day one, the superintendent has to come in and make changes. The superintendent needs to look at what’s going on before making changes, build a collaborative relationship with the board and involve stakeholders. If you cannot communicate your vision, or how you’re making progress, you’re not going anywhere. Transparency is key and communicating those things are key.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.