Fewer than a dozen people attended the Wednesday night public meeting held by the Franklin County School Board to acquire input from the community in its search for a new superintendent.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Church announced in December he would retire Aug. 1, two years ahead of schedule.

Hoping to find what parents’ and community members’ top priorities are in terms of qualifications in areas such as school finance, community relations, staff relations, board-superintendent relations and management skills among others, school board members gathered at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School auditorium armed with surveys and ready to listen.

The survey had been circulating online, as well as via hard copies available at each school and the administration office. The Virginia School Boards Association will tally results and present them to the school board during a closed meeting, which was scheduled for Feb. 27.

Only one person in attendance during the public meeting was not employed by Franklin County Public Schools. However, the staff members who were present spoke about what they hope to see in the district’s next leader.

One teacher, who declined to be identified, said the new superintendent should be a reflection of who FCPS is as they are the face of the school district.

“We want the public to look at that person and feel confidence in the decisions they are making, the way they are trying to work with the school board to move the division forward,” he said. “My hope is for the next person to understand the impact that they make not just for the educators who all show up to convocation in August but the community as a whole.”

Another school division employee said as a parent in the district she would like the next superintendent to advocate for more innovation, to show children “the impact they can have on the world.” She said many parents aren’t able to take their children out of the area and being able to even connect digitally helps to open the students’ minds.

A school counselor in attendance said she too would like the superintendent support innovation but also to recognize the importance of supporting students emotionally.

“I know that Franklin County is doing this, but we need to continue to support our students emotionally, unless we are doing that, we are not able to educate the children,” she said. “I feel like without that support system, if they are struggling emotionally, and with mental health issues than academics is going to be difficult for them.”

Dr. Gloria Freeman, the lone community member in the audience, and a retired professor, said she would like to see a superintendent who is active in professional organizations.

“If you stop learning, I feel like you die,” Freeman said.

She said she believes the ability to see the big picture, set long-term goals and assess programs for change and improvement are also important skills of a superintendent, as well as being someone who positively engages with teachers.

In a closed meeting last night, the school board met with VSBA officials to discuss a timeline and next steps in the search for candidates. Board chairperson Julie Nix said much of the search will be conducted in closed meetings due to personnel policies.

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