Committee set to begin interviews for next Knox principal on Tuesday
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Interviews for the next leader of Knox Middle School will begin Tuesday, with a parent, teacher and school board member rounding out an interview committee made up of administrators.
With the exit of Dr. James Davis just one year after taking over the top spot and a revolving door of principals throughout the past four years, school board chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said staying power is a top priority.
“We want somebody who will be dedicated, innovative and creative,” he said.
Krista Woolly, president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, said the key to keeping someone in the position is support.
“I think we as a community and the district’s administrators have to support them in the rawest sense,” she said.
That means not just throwing more funding and resources at the school, Woolly said.
“I almost liken it to a rich kid whose parents support them monetarily, but not with love,” she said. “We can give Knox this many positions or this much money, but we’ve got to give Knox that attention.”
School board member Bryce Beard, who represents the Salisbury area, called Knox a good school, but said it faces challenges, including a high poverty rate with more than 83 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
“It’s hard for people to deal at an at-risk school like that because you’ve got a lot of stress on you right from the start,” he said. “There are easier jobs, but the tougher the challenge, the greater the victory.”
Woolly met with a group of parents to compile a list of qualities they’d like to see in the next Knox principal, but she said there are two main sticking points.
“We’ve got to get somebody in there who’s going to commit three to five years,” she said. “We just can’t keep doing this every year.”
Beard agrees the next hire needs to be someone who will stay awhile.
“Obviously we’ve had too many chances in the last four years,” he said.
Woolly said the other sticking point is finding someone local who is willing to take on the task or bringing in someone from another district who will agree to move to the area.
“I feel this person has to live in our own community to be committed to our community,” she said. “I think that’s huge. … If you live here, you’re less likely to move away or get tired of the commute.”
Finding a principal who will motivate students of all academic abilities also tops Woolly’s list, along with someone who appreciates the value of community and parent partnerships.
“It can’t just be people who have kids at the school,” Woolly said. “It has to be the entire community buying into our school. Dr. Davis did a good job fostering those relationships.”
As the school moves into its second year with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus, Woolly said it’s important that the next leader have the ability to hire the “best and brightest teachers” and use creativity to take Knox to the next level.
Beard said it’s important to hire someone who understands the STEM curriculum, but he said a change in atmosphere is a more pressing concern. “The main thing that I want to see happen at Knox is for that administrator to have the ability to create a very disciplined, safe learning environment,” he said. “I want to make sure the school is inviting so that people who have options will feel comfortable sending their kids to Knox instead of taking the private school route.”
Woolly agrees the new principal should know how to handle discipline.
“We need someone who is not overwhelmed by discipline issues, but able to put them in their proper context,” she said.
Woolly said an optimist is also more likely to get her support.
“I don’t want to see someone in there who is so overwhelmed by the negative that they can’t focus on the positive,” she said. “I’d like to see someone with a glass-half-full concept because I think teachers really follow their principal’s lead.”
Both Beard and Woolly said the school has thrived under Davis’ direction and want the next principal to pick up where he leaves off later this month.
“The school needs to continue to improve rather than backslide,” Beard said. “I think we’re on the right track. We don’t want somebody to be there as just a Band-Aid.”
Beard said he expects the committee, which he and Woolly will serve on, to interview between eight and 10 people for the position Tuesday.
Then they’ll narrow the field to three candidates for a second round of interviews, which could take place later next week.
“I don’t know who’s applied for the job and how many are from our system or from outside,” he said. “I think we did well with the (hire) at Salisbury High and I think we can keep our fingers crossed that something really good happens here.”
In May, the school board named Dr. Avis Williams, a North Rowan High graduate who’s been principal of a technology-focused middle school and a professor in Alabama, to succeed Dr. Windsor Eagle at Salisbury High when he retired after more than 30 years.
Woolly said she’s not looking for a fast hire for Knox, although she’d like to have the next principal in place by Aug. 1.
“We’re not just giving people shots. That’s what we’ve been doing for 20 years,” she said. “We need to get somebody who has a plan and really has a passion for the kids and the school.”
Beard said he’s confident the job will be filled this month, but agrees rushing isn’t the answer.
“I’d like to have someone in there sooner rather than later, but time is not the most important thing,” he said. “We’ve got to find the right person for the school.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.