Wood County Schools’ new chief ready to start Tuesday

PARKERSBURG – This week marks the beginning of a new era for Wood County Schools with a change in leadership and a new look for the central office.

On Tuesday, John Flint officially begins as superintendent. Flint was hired by the Wood County Board of Education to replace retiring Superintendent Pat Law.

Though Flint’s official first day is Tuesday, his presence in the district and the central office has already been felt.

“For a guy who doesn’t start until Tuesday, I’ve been here every day for the past six weeks,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I hit the ground running.”

When Flint officially becomes superintendent this week, many of the titles and responsibilities of central office administrators will be slightly different due to a system-wide reorganization plan he put forth which was recently approved by the Wood County Board of Education.

“I wanted all the pieces to be in place when I started July 1,” Flint said. “Everyone would have their own titles and responsibilities and they’d know what was expected of them. I think all of the moving parts are in place now.”

One of the center pieces of Flint’s reorganization was the creation of a deputy superintendent position. Last week the board hired Gihon Elementary School Principal Betsy Patterson to fill that role.

Under the new organizational plan, instead of nine different administrators reporting directly to the superintendent, those administrators now report to the deputy superintendent who reports to the superintendent. Flint said that does not prevent administrators from speaking directly to him, but the deputy superintendent, who will have intimate knowledge of all of the departments and issues, will be able to better provide context to those situations.

Patterson, who has worked at all three school levels and has experience with the district’s alternative school, said the idea is to increase collaboration and accountability between administrators.

“We want to promote the same collaboration at the central office that we see in our schools,” she said. “We need to model that behavior here.”

Flint said the initial reorganization is only the first phase of a three-part plan. The second phase, however, depends on the success of the first phase.

“It’s a living process that will be tweaked and modified,” he said. “Phase 2 will be based on needs and effectiveness. Everything is on the table for Phase 2.”

The reorganization is only one of the areas being looked at under the new superintendent. Flint said among his goals as superintendent are:

* Increasing student achievement through a data-driven curriculum and continual evaluations based on performance benchmarks.

* Better communication with parents, employees and the community.

* Better integration of technology into the curriculum to meet the needs of modern students.

* Establish financial integrity through greater accountability and transparency.

* Increase student involvement in vocational education and increase vocational program resources.

Flint said one specific area of interest will be special education. Parents and special needs advocates have asserted in recent years that students’ full needs were not being met, that some schools and classrooms were not following federally-mandated education plans and educators lacked training in special needs areas.

“One of our goals is, we want to ensure all special needs students’ issues are met in every area of their school life,” Flint said. Special needs students and their parents “need help, and our delivery system is not only focused on their academic needs but also on their social needs.”

Flint said at times those needs and the concerns of parents have simply not been addressed.

“If people in the past have run into problems, we want a second chance,” he said.

Another area that needs extra attention is facilities.

“We have $15 million in roof replacements needed, but every year we are doing about $1 million in temporary repairs. That’s not a good plan,” he said. “We also have about $15 million in asbestos abatement needed.”

Flint also pointed to Williamstown, where officials and community members have been working on a plan for a new elementary school. Though some potential sites have been identified, the process was placed on hold this year and little movement has been visible to the community.

“Those people in Williamstown deserve the opportunity to put their students into a high-tech and effective environment,” he said. “They’ve waiting long enough.”

Flint said the district’s athletic facilities also must be addressed.

“We can no longer wait until something falls down and then start pointing fingers,” he said.

But major facility projects such as those and the creation of a new school in Williamstown require more capital than the school system has available. Building a new school, he said, will require a bond issue, something he believes the community currently would not back. Flint said he believes to get the community on board with a bond issue, the district must first regain its trust and good will.

“We’ve got to slow this negative noise train down and turn it to a point where people start considering needs,” he said. “Once you start considering needs, you start looking at resources. Once you start looking at resources, the big elephant in the room is a bond issue.

“It took a process to get us here and it will take a process to get us out.”