The Richmond Register

August 11, 2013

Thursday is night of firsts, hardly-evers for county school board

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

MADISON COUNTY — Former Madison Southern High School Principal David Gilliam gave his first report to the county school board Thursday night as the district’s new chief academic officer.

During his first week in the position, Gilliam said, the district’s central office “achievement team” began reviewing its roles and responsibilities with the goal to “increase the time spent out in the schools supporting principals, supporting teachers and meeting students.”

Gilliam said he has three top initiatives:

•    Focus on improving instruction practices

•    Formative instruction tailored to individual student needs, and

•    Look at ways for teachers to collaborate in lesson plans and projects across the district.

Echoing the vision of the Superintendent Elmer Thomas, Gilliam said he is working to establish a mathematics task force to improve math achievement, an area where the district lags behind in state averages.

The task force will be comprised of teachers who will sit down and develop a systemwide approach to teaching math, he said.

“It is very important that it is a teacher-led initiative and it not come from top down on what teachers need to do,” he said.

“So far, we’ve received a stellar list of names recommended for this task force and I plan to personally invite them this week to be a part of this team to start the year off with that focus,” Thomas said later during his first superintendent report. “I said ‘mathematics’ on day one and we’re going keep talking about mathematics as we go forward.”

Thomas said math is just one area he is focused on as he transitions into his new job.

He wants to make sure all teachers and principals are on the same page about preparing students to be college- and/or career-ready, he said.  

And as mentioned in a recent interview with the Richmond Register, Thomas said he has decided to not fill an assistant superintendent position and other spots that were left vacant after a few retirements.

 “If my numbers are right, in the first week, we’ve been able to save about $150,000,” Thomas said.

Also during his first week, Thomas met with a variety of stakeholders, he said, making it a point to meet with every principal, district office staff, new teachers, technology department personnel and other departments throughout the district. Thomas also has scheduled meetings with Madison County Education Association leadership and Madison County Tax Watch members.

“As soon as school starts, I plan on visiting every single classroom in the first week or so just to meet with each one of our teachers and to see our students,” he continued. “I hope that as we strive to be a top-20 district in the Commonwealth, I really look forward to meeting with the community to see how we can work together to guide us to that goal. I know that each one in the room this evening and those that are watching are watching because they care about our students and they care about our community as much as I do.”

During the board comments section, board member Mary Renfro, who voted against hiring Thomas a few weeks ago, said she wanted “to keep hearing about all of the savings you’re going to make. I’m excited.”

Near the end of the meeting during the public comments section, Madison County Tax Watch member Debbie Secchio, one of the board’s most vocal critics, welcomed the superintendent to his position.

 “It’s good to have you up here. You’re a breath of fresh air, contrary to what I may have said a week and a half ago,” said Secchio, referring to the comment she made July 26 just moments after the board announced it chose Thomas to lead the district.

Of the three finalists, Thomas was the only candidate who was already an employee of Madison County Schools having served as principal of Madison Central High School since 2010.

Secchio had originally disagreed with the board hiring someone from within the district but Thursday she called Thomas “a great glimpse of hope.”

“In the past, it seems to be that the weight was put on those that work within the system as to how the money was spent,” she said. “Now we have someone who is actually saying that we will look to all the groups who contribute to funding the school system.”

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.