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Phillips says motivating and building morale his strengths

BOE Superintendent candidate John Phillips, who toured the county’s schools on Friday, said he thought the system had “much to be proud of.”

At Saturday’s interview with the board, the veteran educator from South Carolina described himself as someone who would be an ambassador for the public school system and have high visibility in the schools and in the community.

“In order to see the schools take it to the next level, we have to look at what works and what doesn’t, especially in tough economic times . . . we have to find consensus and work together to raise proficiency in every area – reading, math, science and technology,” Phillips said.

He said communication was the key to success within the system. “I have discovered the hard way communication is critical, and it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate. I believe all matters of significance should be brought to the board’s attention. I work at the discretion of the board, and would not act outside the board’s wishes,” Phillips said.

He again stressed he preferred to work with, and not against people. “I want to work with the Broad of Education, administration, faculty and parents. If you respect people and show you want the very best for the system, you can accomplish a lot. I’m not old, but I’m not a youngster. I’ve learned along the way,” Phillips said.

Phillips said it was important for systems to do their best to operate in the black and use borrowing only as a last resort. “I would work closely with the CFO and the board so we know all along the way where we are fiscally – in an internal auditing process,” he said.

He described community support as “absolutely essential.”

“As a classroom teacher in Title I in St. Louis, I needed all the help from outside sources I could get. I got animals from the butcher shop to use for anatomy classes . . . students brought things from home to augment projects and this got parents interested. We did a lot of grant writing and I connected with businesses across the community to help with supplies,” Phillips said.

He said his efforts paid off when his school led all 105 schools in that district for parental involvement.

“We didn’t have the resources; we had to find them. We focused on a love of learning, which is more critical than ever with 21st century technology,” Phillips said.

With the quality of life so closely tied to public education in the community, Phillips said it was the superintendent’s and board’s job to prove to the citizens “public schools offer a very, very good deal.”

He suggested parental education beyond PTA meetings may be needed to increase parental involvement in their child’s education.

“Parents are the first teachers . . . we need them to help us provide quality early childhood education experiences for our children,” Phillips said.

The candidate said he believed in being open and transparent with the media and said he relished the opportunity to establish a relationship with the media in regard to what the system is doing and where it is headed.

Establishing strong ties with business and industry is a boon to the school system, Phillips said, helping to prepare a workforce that is trained or ready to be trained to perform in these positions.

“Be proactive and find out what is coming in terms of jobs. Address the curriculum to lend itself to various occupations,” Phillips said.

He described his management style as “very inclusive.”

“I get as much info as possible, use objectives so everyone has targets to reach for. Fostering academic achievement is the main goal, of course,” Phillips said.

He said creating a positive work environment and motivating staff were his forte.

“It’s better to work with your teachers and inspire them to do better than to go through due process to remove a teacher, which takes a lot of time. Every so often you run across an individual so damaged it is better for them to move on into another field,” Phillips said.

In his first year, Phillips said he would determine the system’s strengths and weaknesses by looking at all data and reviewing all history available.

In terms of No Child Left Behind, Phillips said he had already been implementing many of NCLB’s requirements before it became law.

“I’ve always held students to a higher standard and I believe in the overall thrust of the program. Our children should be performing above average; certainly all schools should be reaching AYP,” Phillips said.

Athletics can help spur learning among students who must maintain a certain GPA to play, he said.

In terms of budgeting during proration, Phillips said programs and activities that are not bringing results should be eliminated. In terms of personnel, longevity and sound data should be the key to determining those whose contracts aren’t renewed.

“We will take what we’ve got and make the best of it and I assure you we will make substantial growth. Great teachers and philosophers have been around for thousands of years, teaching under trees sometimes. Enthusiasm, inspiration and motivation can make up for a lack of certain things,” Phillips said.