BOE moves to next stage in search

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

The next phase of the search for a new superintendent for the Butler County School System began Thursday with the official interview of Mike Looney.

Looney proved to be a quick thinker during an intense multiple question interview by board of education members that lasted nearly two hours.

Looney spent the day in Butler County beginning with breakfast with BOE President Linda Cook-Hamilton. He then toured the county's schools and lunched with board members. After meeting the central office staff he met various parents, teachers and support personnel before attending a public reception.

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As people filed into the board chambers at the central office, Looney met each person, introducing himself.

He said before the interview that he had enjoyed the day.

"It has been a very informative and exciting experience," he said.

He began the interview with a PowerPoint presentation on what he stands for and what he would do as superintendent.

He said the four principles he adheres to are:

n Keep the focus on learning.

n Be prepared to open the schools.

n Seek and include and engage stakeholders in the system.

n Value people.

He said a school system's success is measured in students learning.

"It's simple," he said.

"If the student can't learn the material, then we aren't doing our job."

He said one thing that a school system must understand is that all students are different and that they will all learn on different levels.

"We have to challenge all students," he said.

"I'm not just talking about the special education students, but also the gifted students and the above average children."

He said students, teachers and support personnel alike should know that when they enter one of the Butler County schools that they are entering a safe place, and a place that is prepared for learning.

Throughout the night, Looney pounded away at the issue of communication with staff, teachers, students, parents and the public.

He related that he gives out his personal cell phone number so that anyone can call him with a question and that he would bring that practice to Butler County.

"The more people who hear something directly, you are going to have less problems," he said.

"I believe in communication and that means communicating consistently and constantly."

He also said he believes it takes a concerted effort from everyone in a school system to be successful.

"I am not an island and I know there is no 'I' in team," he said.

"You have to listen to others.

People know when you are being genuine and when you want to listen…It is one thing to ask for their opinions, but it is a whole other thing to have their opinions included."

Looney said one thing that is very important to him is accountability.

He said if a problem arises, that it should be made public and admit it as a mistake and move on.

He also said he believes that it takes everyone. He said as a principal he was never afraid to mop a floor or grab a broom and use it.

"As a principal, I wanted the children to have a clean school," he said.

He said one thing he implemented was putting the janitor's pictures up on hallways they were responsible for so that the students could see who cleaned up after them.

"They knew who was responsible for that clean hall," he said.

"It held the janitorial staff accountable."

As for what he would expect from the school board if he is hired, he said he would want and expect a close, honest relationship and to have a clear voice in the system.

"I don't believe that a board should act as a rubber stamp," he said.

"There will be times when a board will disagree with a superintendent."

He said it is just as important that he be involved with community organizations and be seen out in the public.

He said he is a longtime member of the Lions Club as well as other professional and civic groups.

Along those same lines, he said it is vital that he be very visible in each of the county's schools and to know the teachers by name and for them to expect him in their classrooms.

He said he often will visit a classroom and tell the teacher to go take a break while he teaches the lesson.

"While I'm an administrator, I'm first a teacher," he said.

"I can't refine my craft if I'm stuck in my office."

One thing that Looney emphasized near the end of the night was that he believes being superintendent does not give him free reign.

That he must be a responsible fiscal manager and that his programs and ideas must have identifiable results. He spoke of creating a strategic plan for the system.

"We've got to set a strategic plan," he said.

"We've got to have (a plan) to let people know in what direction we are going."

He added that he believes a portion of his salary should be results-based.

Looney also pointed out that he has four children.

Two attend public schools in Montgomery; a third will begin kindergarten in the fall. He is also the father of a college sophomore.

Looney is the first applicant of five who will interview for the system's top position.

He currently serves as assistant superintendent of education for the Montgomery County School System. His previous position was administrative assistant to the superintendent of the Calhoun County board of education. He received his education specialist degree from the University of Alabama in 1996.

At the end of the interview Looney said he had one question for the board: "When can I start," he asked.

"When can I start?" he said.

The next candidate the board will interview is Kenneth Howard Bynum, who will meet with board members on June 17.

He currently serves as administrative assistant to the superintendent in Troy and was vice-principal at Charles Henderson High School.

Other candidates to be interviewed are:

N Dr. Christopher Quinn, who currently serves as the executive assistant to the superintendent of the Dublin (Ga.) City School System. His previous position was superintendent of education with the Dublin City School System.

He will interview on Monday, June 20.

N Paul E. Tate, Jr., who currently serves as assistant superintendent/ human resources for the Mobile County Board of Commissioners. He will interview on Wednesday, June 22.

N Rita Wright, who currently serves as education specialist with the Montgomery County Board of Education. She previously worked as administrative assistant to the superintendent for the Calhoun County Board of Education. She will interview on Friday, June 24.

A sixth finalist, Dr. Abbe Boring, accepted a position with a school system in Georgia and withdrew her name from consideration.

The board hopes to have the position filled before the new academic year begins in August.