Business leaders want next Fort Smith school boss to be innovative, focused on student success

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 129 views 

If there is any consensus to be gleaned from an informal survey of Fort Smith business leaders, it’s that said leaders hope the next Fort Smith Public School superintendent have a track record of success, be accepting of innovative education models, and be focused on students.

Fort Smith Public Schools Superintendent Benny Gooden announced April 25 he will resign effective June 30. Gooden was named superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools in August 1986. His retirement will conclude 30 years at the job and 50 years in education.

The Fort Smith business community in recent years has been more involved in policy and planning at the Fort Smith Public School District. For much of his tenure, Gooden worked close with and was supported by the business community. However, the business community opposed a recent effort by Gooden to build a third high school in the Chaffee Crossing area – southeast of the city’s center. An independent review of the need for a third high school was conducted and it determined a third high school was not needed. The plan has been put on the back burner.

Talk Business & Politics recently sent the following question to more than 50 business people in Fort Smith: “What type of person (skills, experience, traits, etc.) do you think is needed to help the district – a critically important asset in terms of regional socio-economic development – meet the challenges it will face in the coming years?”

Jim Walcott, president of Weldon, Williams & Lick, provided the following four points in his response.
• This person, first and foremost, must not settle for mediocrity (has a track record of this in previous roles) and who has demonstrated success in putting students’ success ahead of adults.

• They must be able to build relationships and trust across many different constituencies and have the community believe that they are constantly working for students’ future success.

• They need to be able to lead a team to dramatically innovate what and how students learn so they are prepared for the jobs of the future that don’t yet exist.

• They must believe in the potential of EVERY student, regardless of their background and upbringing, and ensure that EVERY student in Fort Smith has the ability to realize that potential.

Michelle Cernak, an owner at Westark Plumbing, admitted she was not sure what qualities would be best, and sought an answer. She received this response from an educator in the Fort Smith Public School system: “As a teacher I would love to see a leader with a proven track record of financial acumen, experience with high minority/poverty schools, someone who was at some point in his/her career a CORE (English, science, math, history) classroom teacher (not a coach or band director), and will lobby in Little Rock for things that truly matter in education to educators and not just bow to the wished on politicians who don’t know what’s truly best.”

Paula Glidewell, vice president of Glidewell Distributing, offered a succinct answer.

“Someone who is forward thinking, who has experience and can deal with a community that is a bit backward thinking,” she noted.

Rham Cunningham, with The Richland Group, said the next superintendent will have big shoes to fill. He also hopes the next school boss will be an advocate for hard work.

“As a new father, I trust that this new leader will not be soft, but firm in his/her decision making and have a defined discipline as well as being an advocate of hard work and positive thinking. That is how I was raised and will raise my daughter. This is how one achieves success in life. Nothing is worth anything that doesn’t take hard work to achieve. This new leader will be a good listener, a great communicator, a motivator and a true leader. I look forward to shaking the hand of this person who will take the reigns from Dr. Gooden, a man who brought a great deal of good to this city and to our schools. Big shoes to fill, but I have no doubt it will happen.”