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Board Interviews Two For Superintendent

By Staff | Jun 22, 2016

The Wetzel County Board of Education will hold a special meeting, at a future date, to announce the schools’ new superintendent.

At the conclusion of a special meeting held Tuesday, June 21, Board President Mike Blair said an offer had been made to one of two candidates who had been interviewed that evening. Blair said once the board received feedback from the candidate, a special meeting would be held to make an announcement.

On Tuesday, June 21, the board interviewed Doddridge County Schools Superintendent Rick Coffman, and Ritchie County Schools Superintendent Ed Toman. Wetzel County Schools Assistant Superintendent Jay Yeager was also expected to be interviewed for the position. However, President Blair read a letter from Yeager, in which Yeager requested that his name be removed from consideration for the position.

Via the letter, Yeager stated that he would begin his retirement and described the other two candidates as “outstanding,” saying either would be “excellent” for the job as Wetzel County Schools’ superintendent. Yeager further said Wetzel County Schools was “one of the finest school systems and one of the best to work in.”

After Coffman and Toman were interviewed, the board did retire to executive session, which lasted for more than an hour. Warren Grace and Bill Jones were invited to discuss the matter with the board and met with the board briefly, behind closed doors, at the beginning of the executive session. Both Grace and Jones will assume their elected positions to the board, along with Amy Cooley, beginning July 1.

The separate interviews with Coffman and Toman each lasted approximately one hour. During his interview, Coffman described himself as “very hands-on” and “not a person who sits behind the desk.”

Coffman said it is good to deal with people “eyeball to eyeball” and noted that if “you want your people to buy into a philosophy and mission, you have to include them in many decisions.”

“Employees have to know you care about them and value them. If that doesn’t happen, not much else will happen,” Coffman said.

Toman said he was excited at the prospect of returning to the Ohio Valley.

“There’s nothing like the Valley. The Ohio Valley is my home,” he said.

As for his superintendent skills, Toman stressed he was “transparent and honest.”

“Sometimes that gets you in trouble, but the truth is always to be known,” he said.

Toman described how, as superintendent of Ritchie County Schools, he meets with advisory committees made up of different personnel members.

“We talk about things going on, and my board president says that has stopped a lot of undue gossip.”

Toman responded that one of his strengths that he’d bring to the job is the fact that the area is his home. The Paden City graduate noted that “to be superintendent and to come back to have the community we have, my connection out at Hundred and the friendships I have out that way, and to Valley and Paden City it would be incredible.”

Board President Blair asked each candidate how they would deal with discord in the school system.

Coffman replied that there are issues in every school system, and “usually when there is disgruntlement, there are issues or concerns or problems that aren’t being addressed people aren’t being listened to, and no action is being taken.”

“Problems and issues can’t be ignored,” Coffman said.

He further recommended seeking out a veteran teacher as a source for information.

“They know what the issues are,” he said.

“I know that someone like myself, even though I have 36 and a half years of experience you need to earn respect and gain trust. The only way to do that is to show leadership and make hard decisions,” he added.

Coffman also cited the importance of clearly defined roles and engagement. “People have to understand why you are doing what you are doing,” he said.

Toman cited the importance of building trust and being visible, as well as supporting teachers and principals.

“You try to be that support. That’s what the central office’s role is.”

He also said it is important to remain student-centered.

“We may not have the best test takers, but we all grow at a certain level”

Toman described his own struggles as a child and how having someone believe in him helped him become the person he is today.

“Having someone believe in you means more than anything,” he said.

Board Member Linda Kirk inquired as to how each candidate would work toward raising test scores.

Coffman stressed the importance of having a long-term plan.

“You can’t take your foot off the gas. What are you are doing has to be by the state model and has to be sustainable. It takes three to five years sometimes,” he said.

Coffman stressed the importance of “figuring out what weaknesses and skill deficiencies are,” as well as retrieving data and setting benchmarks.

“You can overdo it,” he warned.

“Students become test weary, and then when they get to the important tests, they are tired of it,” he explained.

Toman, during his response, said it is important kids see the importance of test scores.

“Kids are worried about today. They aren’t worried about tomorrow,” Toman explained, further expressing how he’d like to showcase how many kids receive the Promise Scholarship or get their education paid for as a result of scoring high on tests, such as the ACT.

Toman also stressed the importance of reviewing data.

“The ACT gives great results, but we are phasing out of that. I wish the state would’ve kept that, but it is changing all of those things.”

During his interview, Coffman was asked how to address attendance issues among employees.

Coffman explained how one incentive involves paying teachers for unused sick days. He explained how teachers have been given $60 for each unused sick day. If a teacher does not use any of his or her 12 sick days, he or she is given a bonus check in July. “It saved us thousands our very first year,” Coffman explained.

Another incentive program involves giving a teacher, who does not miss any days in a given month, a gift card for a local business.

It’s very small, but you are putting emphasis on something very important.”

However, Coffman said the root of the issue is to “attract and hire and retain good people.”

“When you have good, strong young people, you nurture them. If you don’t nurture them, they will leave,” he said.

Toman discussed dealing with the cause of absences. He said if an employee is missing work because of medical reasons, “you can’t touch that.” However, he said, sometimes there is an issue that can be dealt with, by an administrator.

“You could have a policy to give more money, but research shows that a policy isn’t going to change a whole lot,” he explained. “it may give more money to someone who is there all the time, but what is out there to make them not come?”

Board Member Kirk asked Coffman for his thoughts on academic coaches.

“They can be very valuable if you have the right person in that position, and if it is used properly,” he responded.

Coffman explained that if an academic coach is loaded up with “administrative duties, they won’t do what they are designed to do.”

He further explained how an academic coach is designed to work directly with teachers and students.”

“An academic coach needs to get the data and make suggestions and give ideas to the teacher of how to use the data, in order to help those skill weaknesses,” he said.

Toman recommended hiring a senior teacher for the position, noting that at his school system, “we had some retired teachers that did that through contract and worked with teachers that way.”

Board Member Joshua Balcerek asked each candidate how they would make sure issues, that come up in the schools, are dealt with at the school level at first.

“The problem needs dealt with in a timely fashion, and the more difficult and serious the problem, the quicker it needs dealt with,” Coffman responded.

He also stressed how the problem needs dealt with via the proper chain of command.

“I’ve had people calling me and screaming, and I make the school deal with the issue. By the time it is over, the people are calling me back and thanking me,” he explained.

Toman, when asked the same question, stressed how it is important to direct the one complaining to the appropriate source. For instance, he would direct a concerned parent to the teacher or principal.

He also expressed the importance of trust and how sometimes a parent just wants to know that someone is listening.

“I don’t think I have to tell them how I’m going to solve it, but just let them know I’m listening,” he said.

Board Member Gatian inquired as to how each candidate would change the school culture and drive.

“You need to be the hub of the community. Parents need to feel comfortable in the school system,” Coffman said of the school system.

“We have so many stinking rules that people don’t want to be around the school, don’t want to ask to use it or be a part of things,” he explained, stressing the importance of being approachable and collaborative.

“Get the community involved in as many activities as you can. You have homecoming and prom and opportunities on the calendar include the community and invite them to things.”

Coffman also described how surveying teachers, staff, and students can be a worthy tool.

“You’ve got to let people know their input is important and is going to be used. You have to let them know that whatever the problem is, it will be addressed and that change will occur. When people feel like they have no input, no part in any decision, you will have a school culture issue.”

When asked the same, Toman said he felt it was time for him to come home, inferencing how he would be a good fit for the school system.

“Wetzel County has had five superintendents, maybe four I think it goes back to building trust and building relationships,” he said.

Toman also said he was not afraid to get his hands dirty.

“Don’t ask anybody to do anything you aren’t willing to do,” he added.

He further noted how he would strive to be visible and supportive in all areas of the community.

“I wouldn’t mind having a shirt for my little guy and wife to each have, a shirt for every community.”

In closing remarks, Coffman offered support to his fellow candidates. He congratulated the board on attracting people “like Ed Toman.”

“I worked with Jay (Yeager) for years and years, and he is a tremendous human being,” Coffman added.

“To attract people like that, and to have so many applicantskudos. It isn’t like that in every county.”

“I’d very much like to be the next superintendent of Wetzel County Schools,” Coffman said.

“Wetzel County Schools has a lot of great things going on,” Toman explained. “We forget the good and concentrate on the bad” Toman added that his roots are in Wetzel County.

Also, Toman said the board at Ritchie County Schools agreed to release him from his current contract but explained he wanted to have some sort of agreement with the current Wetzel County board, and future Wetzel County board, so that he could prepare to be in Wetzel County for the long term.

President Blair explained that the board was losing three members and gaining three new members. “I can’t speak on the other three,” he noted of the new board members.

“I don’t want to come in if three new board members don’t want me,” Toman said, but added he would love to “be back in Wetzel.”