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Search firm presents findings to Loudoun School Board, reports record participation

With Superintendent Ed Hatrick six months away from the end of his 22-year tenure, the Loudoun County School Board now knows what 4,181 community members want in the new leader of the county's public school system.

Search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates presented the school board with the initial results of their community survey Jan. 2.

Hank Gmitro, president of HYA, and his senior associate Brad Draeger said the feedback they received was the most they have ever gotten.

The firm conducted interviews with 179 participants and conducted online surveys resulting in 4,181 responses.

Last year, HYA did the same research in Fairfax County for that county's superintendent search. Fairfax is about double the size of Loudoun and it only received 3,200 responses to the online survey.

“There were 200 pages of additional comments we received from the online survey. Many of those comments reinforced the things that we had heard in meetings and conversations with people,” Gmitro said.

Both Gmitro and Draeger spent time in Loudoun County gathering information from the general public through surveys, open forums and individual interviews.

Gmitro said they held a total of six open forum public meetings and four open staff forums over a four-day visit to the area in November.

In the online survey, community members were asked to rate five characteristic categories of the county's school system. The community was asked to rate the following: the county's ability to listen to and effectively represent interests and concerns of various student and faculty groups; the climate of trust and respect between faculty, staff and the administration; the knowledge of the teaching process and importance of educational technology; the ability to recruit and retain effective personnel throughout the county; and the clear vision of the requirements needed to provide exemplary education.

The national benchmark for the first rating is 38 percent. Loudoun scored a 57 percent. The second, a 40 percent national benchmark, had Loudoun rating 54 percent. In the third, fourth and fifth ratings, Loudoun ranked significantly higher than the national benchmark by 46 percent to 35 percent, 46 percent to 36 percent and 45 percent to 36 percent, respectively.

According to the results provided by the community, Loudoun County has a significantly higher percentage than the national benchmark.

“When you look at these first two, it is very rare you get a majority to agree on one of the top priorities. The fact you have 57 percent of respondents is a reflection of what people think of is in place in this organization,” Gmitro said. “All the rest of them being in the high 40s and higher is a strong result as well.”

During their research, the firm wanted to know the strengths the county currently possesses, its current challenges and characteristics wanted of the new superintendent of schools.

The community has a desire to see a new superintendent that is a communicator, an innovator, a collaborator with the surrounding business community, a visionary, approachable and someone who can make decisions and stand by them.

Some of the strengths the public pointed to included being able to build schools to keep pace with the county's growth, an excellent reputation, well maintained facilities and a sense of family.

Every school system faces challenges and, according to the search firm's research, Loudoun County faces a lack of consistency across all its schools, a focus on innovation, a need to prepare students differently for the future and 21st century and more focus on special needs in schools as well as many others.

HYA is hoping to begin interviewing applicants at the end of January with the School Board holding their first round of interviews in late February. They will interview their semifinalists after the first week in March.

The board plans to appoint its next superintendent in late March or early April.

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