Duplin school leader sets goals
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on July 14, 2010 1:46 PM
Duplin County Schools Superintendent Austin Obasohan started work July 1. He met with the News-Argus to discuss his views about education, his role as a leader and an administrator and his goals for Duplin students and teachers.
Q: How did you become involved in education administration?
A: Through my years of teaching and working in public education with classroom teachers, I realized that I needed to do more, I needed to try to reach out to more students and one of the ways I could do that was to go into administration.
Q: How would you describe your educational philosophy?
A: My educational philosophy is that all children have a dream, and they are born to succeed, children are born to succeed. It is our job to give the children the best that we can, and the best way we can teach a child is to understand and accept them unconditionally.
Q: What goals do you have in mind, both for yourself and for the school system?
A: One of the things the board wanted me to do was to complete a 90-day assessment plan, and also after that, create a strategic plan with the community board, heading into the future. And then after that, what are some action steps on how are we going to get there? And that subsequently will drive our actions, drive our programs, drive our measurement? The key thing is for every child to graduate.
Q: What do you see as your role in working with the Board of Education members?
A: My role is to enforce board policy, is to make sure that the board and myself work together as a team for higher academic achievement. Be a facilitator between the school board and the community board, and what I mean by that is work with the board members, the community board, the county commissioners, spiritual leaders, teachers, students, to try and bring that partnership together. Bring everyone back to the table, because it takes everybody, it takes a whole community to raise a child.
Q: What are some of the things you have been working on since you have started in the position?
A: I've been listening, examining data, setting expectations. I met with our cabinet members, central office cabinet members meet with me. Also, I formed a senior leadership team, we meet every morning. I connect with the principals ... community members, parents. I'm going to form an advisory council, a student advisory council. I want to have one student from each school, one teacher from each school, one parent from each school in the county.
Q: What influence will this group have into running the school system?
A: Their influence will be to be a resource, they will come to me with ideas and I think we need to hear every part, we need to hear from them, because educational achievement, education is a centerpiece of any community. You can't grow until your education system grows. Just bringing all of them together, making sure they are a part of the planning process as well. In addition to that, they will do the advising as issues come up. How do we problem-shoot?
Q: What are some of the most important issues facing students today?
A: We need to find a way to understand these children and know what their talents are, their strengths are, and match that with strategy that will help bring out the best in them. That will come with professional development for our teachers and support for our teachers, so those are the challenges -- you have people who want to help the children, but you need to find a way to match them correctly. And I think the other challenge, essential thing is, we Mapquest our children so much. In other words, we just think there is only one route to education, but there are many routes to excellence. We need to explore those alternative routes to excellence and help our children.
Q: What sort of relationship do you hope to have with the school system's teachers?
A: The best relationship there is. Without our teachers, we don't have a successful classroom. The teachers are actually on the forefront. So I'm going to make sure I'm going to be in the classroom as often as I can and be very visible. I want to be with them and make sure I understand what they are doing, how I can provide instructional leadership for them, training and support. Teachers don't need too much, but they just want to feel valued and respected. And I want to give them that, because they deserve to be respected. I trust them to do what is best, which is to teach our children.
Q: What are some of the steps you plan to take to make your administration transparent?
A: We have a new website now, we've already talked to the board and as part of that the board has agreed with me to have a work session for the board where action will be discussed. And I am going to be visible, I am going to use the media. ... We can't do anything under the table, I don't know how to do anything under the table. Everything will be done on the table. I will be having town hall meetings with these new boards, so people in the community will be attending community events to discuss and keep them posted on all situations. I will be doing superintendent reports.
Q: What benefits do you see coming from having your meetings divided into a workshop and an action session?
A: For me, it's a matter of fairness and integrity and transparency. It's not fair to the board to have the board have an agenda and discuss it and vote on it the same day. I think a good business practice would be, let's discuss it, give the board an opportunity to investigate the actions they're voting on, and also give our staff members and myself the information and have time to research it. I just want to make sure we're making well-informed decisions.
Q: To what degree do you want to know beforehand what sorts of issues the school board members are going to introduce? Do you want them to come talk to you beforehand?
A: Yes, yes. It's not the board's job to do the daily operations, that's my job. Their job is to develop policy with me and supervise me. So yes, I've already told them, we had a discussion, that all items that have to do with school business must be referred to me. And I've also told the staff, no staff should talk to the school board member without letting me know, they all come through my office. I'm the medium between the board and the school system. I think that is a professional way to do business, that is the way we've agreed to do business, and we're going to hold each other accountable.
Q: What do you think about the place the school system has arrived at the moment in regards to the lawsuit?
A: I'll just say this, I'm going to reach out to everybody in the community to support a healthy relationship. The county commissioners' relationship and the county board relationship is very, very important to the success of our school system and our community. I'm looking into that, I've met with the county commission chair. I will work with them, my goal is to work with them. I can't help what happened before I got here, but I want to look to the future, and that is the approach I am taking. I want to instill hope in our children and our community so they will trust us again, and so we can work together as a team. So now it's my job to make sure that that happens.
Q: What kind of relationship do you hope to cultivate with the citizens of Duplin County?
A: A positive relationship. I want to work with the community to have that type of working relationship where all of us can feel good about our school system and say, you know what, this is Duplin County school system and it's our school system, regardless of whatever challenges to the school system. I need everybody, every corner of Duplin, everyone.
Q: Have you identified any problem areas you particularly want to address?
A: The challenge right now, from what I'm seeing looking at the data is closing the achievement gap. From the bottom to the top, we have to challenge those high achievers to achieve higher and those that are on the bottom, to bring them up.
Q: What are some of your education priorities?
A: Graduation rate, teacher preparedness, teacher readiness, professional development.
-Comments edited for length.