WCS Director candidate meet and greet
Story by Shannon Taylor, Senior Investigative Reporter
All four candidates for the Weakley County Schools Superintendent position were at the meet and greet located at Dresden Middle School gymnasium to meet the community and answer any questions they might have. Interviews were had earlier that day and School Board Chair Steve Vantrease said that those interviews are available for teachers that missed the public interviews to view online and he said that any member of the public that would like to see the interviews can submit an FOIA request and the interviews will be uploaded to a disc.
The four candidates were Gleason Principal Lee Lawrence, Greenfield Principal Jeff Cupples, Assistant Director of Schools Betsi Foster and East Coloma-Nelson School District Superintendent Chris Lensing, from Rock Falls, Illinois. I asked all four candidates how they felt the interviews went earlier that day. Lawrence said that they went very well and that they were professionally done. “Mr. Qualls as a consultant did an excellent job. It was a very productive day.” Cupples said that he felt good about it. “I had an opportunity to express some thoughts and there was a lot of information in a short amount of time to try to communicate and talk through, but I thought they went pretty well.” Foster said that she was pleased with the boards questions and thought they went really well. “I felt like their questions were directly related to what happens in Weakley County Schools and I felt prepared to answer them and I think it was evidence of how much they thought of the process and what’s important.” Lensing said that he thought it was a great process and that the board did a great job. “I think you have some phenomenal candidates and it’s just god to be in that company. I was honored to be there.”
I asked each candidate if they were selected as Director, what would be the number one thing that they would bring to the table. Lawrence said, “I think we’ve got to bring a big emphasis on how important and vital community schools are. That’s something we’ve had a long-standing tradition with here in Weakley County and I know that’s been a hot button issue in the past, but we have so many great things going on within our community schools and we want to keep accentuating all the positives we’re doing with that. I think we’ve got too much to offer in each of our communities and it makes our county more economically viable as well.”
Cupples said that collaboration was the most important thing for him. “Bringing everybody to the table-what I want to bring to the table is getting everybody in-I know the CTE we’ve been working really hard to try to get our kids connected to business so that they find their purpose and see what careers are out there and every industry that I’ve talked to have been more than willing, you know, because everybody needs workers and we need to develop that workforce. I think the thing I would bring to the table is getting everybody to there and if selected that’s going to be my top priority is getting and building relationships and getting out and meeting industry leaders and community leaders and finding out what they need and sitting down with the community and the county and develop what a portrait of a graduate looks like and then work backwards on what we want our graduates from Weakley County Schools to look like so that our employers can get people that are employable.
Foster said that for her, the most important thing would be the resources in the county that are not being taken advantage of. “I think we can do things with bussing between our schools for the programs we have in our high schools. I think we have staff that we can utilize more effectively to reach more students. The first thing I’m going to do is look at all of our resources and see how we can better use those for students.”
Lensing said that experience was the most important thing he would bring to the table. “The experience of being in school districts-I still have a fire in my belly and I want to improve. I feel like every place I’ve been I’ve improved. Also finding my niche here-I feel like with so many schools here there’s a challenge. You have different mascots and different schools and people love their schools-how do we find unity with all of that?” Lensing said that there would be a lot of the same challenges that he has faced in his school district. “Things like retaining teachers, bringing in new teachers, dealing with districts with higher pay–those are all the things that I think would be challenges here as well.”
The Weakley County School Board will meet in special session on Wednesday, March 29 at 4 pm at the Board of Education to consider and approve the voting process for the new Director and to select the new Director of Weakley County Schools.