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TMCNet:  New school superintendent seeks progress over perfection

[November 21, 2012]

New school superintendent seeks progress over perfection

Nov 21, 2012 (Northwest Florida Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- New Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson has a vision for the future of Okaloosa County schools, but it doesn't involve a flawless path to perfection.


Yes, Jackson said, she's looking to continue student success, and yes, she's looking for ways to cut back the demands on teachers. However, it won't be the end of the world if the school district experiences a misstep or two along the way.

"I don't think perfection is necessarily the most important thing in the world," Jackson said. "I think progress is." Armed with that belief, Jackson said she searched for a model that not only provides an effective personnel structure and a balanced budget, but one that also produces high student performance.

After a year of study, Jackson said she believes she's found the most effective model.

"I think it's very streamlined," the newly sworn in superintendent said.

The biggest immediate change will be the creation of three district director positions, she said. One will oversee all the high schools, another all the middle schools and a third all the elementary schools.

To accommodate that change, other positions in the school district will see some modification, she said. The district previously had people who oversaw curriculum subjects for all grades and two deputy superintendents.

Jackson promised to release more details on the changes and new positions after she provides the School Board with her full plan.

"(People) need to know where we want to go," Jackson said. "I learned a long time ago if you include people and you value their opinion, it makes a better team ... and that's what I want." Her plan is divided into six phases. The first phase is starting now and the next will occur at the end of the current contract year June 30. After that, Jackson said she has laid out 18-, 24-, 36- and 48-month plans.

"We have targets where we want to be in those specific times," Jackson said. "Of course that's a fluid target. ... You have to have a plan A and a plan B because you never know." In addition to job description changes, Jackson said she wants to start identifying untapped leadership potential among the district's younger educators to prepare for a number of expected retirements.

"We are definitely trying to look ahead," Jackson said. "(We're) trying to find those young men and women that we feel might want to participate in some of these (administrative) positions." The district's administration won't be the only place experiencing changes. Teachers also should expect a few modifications, specifically a decline in required paperwork designed to bring "some relief," Jackson said.

If the changes she plans to propose to the School Board next month are all approved, it should cost the district only an additional $13,000, she said.

Jackson said she still is waiting to see what happens on the state and national level in terms of the teacher performance evaluation model and the new nationwide standardized tests expected in 2014-15 before she makes any solid plans about those issues.

Until then, she said she will focus on maintaining a sense of calm about the rigor increase.

"Somebody needs to be the rock. We don't need to be screaming, 'The sky is failing,' " Jackson said. "We need to assure our teachers and our students that we're going to get through this, and we will. I have no doubt." ___ (c)2012 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) at www.nwfdailynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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