It was a packed day last week for the two potential Bettendorf school superintendents.
From 8 a.m. on, they went from meetings to interviews with stakeholders: teachers, parents, community members. Finally, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, they entered the home stretch. Michelle Morse and Robert Callaghan each had a 50-minute community forum where they fielded questions submitted by the audience about discipline, community relations, fine arts education and working with unions.
About 30 people showed up to Mark Twain Elementary to meet the candidates, many teachers and building or central office administrators. Here’s what they heard from the candidates.
Michelle Morse, assistant superintendent of human resources, Newhall School District, Valencia, Calif.
Morse emphasized her ability to cultivate strong relationships, her dedication to being a lifelong learner, and approach to addressing the “root causes” of student behavior.
“I go to work because I love what I do,” she said. “Kids don’t have time for us to not do the best that we can do.”
One question asked how candidates would handle the uptick in disruptive or violent student behavior.
“I believe, philosophically, that behavior is a form of communication,” Morse said, adding that without addressing root causes, there cannot be progress. “It’s about getting down with those on the ground level and figuring out what they’re trying to communicate with that behavior.”
When it came to accountability for administrators and teachers, she again returned to finding the root of the problem.
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“You can’t have accountability until you provide support and training. You have to look at the root of the problem — was it a lack of training that we didn’t provide, from the central office?” Morse said. “(If there was training), then you can hold people accountable. But you do it in a way that’s focused on how we’re going to get better.”
Robert Callaghan, superintendent of Newton Community School District, Newton, Iowa
Callaghan reiterated his relational and approachable leadership style, the need for community involvement and his “strong background” in discipline.
“I will bring you together as a community. I can’t always give you what you want — I think there’s a song about that — but what we can do is come by it honestly and professionally.”
He was also asked how he would handle an increase in disruptive or violent student behavior. Callaghan said high expectations needed to be set and enforced consistently so students knew what the “consequences — not punishment, consequences” were for behavior.
School, he said, needed to be a safe place, for teachers as well as students.
“We can’t expect people to come to work and expect, as part of that work, to be hit. Would any of us deal with that? … I think the answer would be no,” Callaghan said. “At some point, the kids have to change their behavior. We shouldn’t be changing other kids in the classroom.”
When asked about changes in Iowa’s collective bargaining laws, Callaghan said the staff in his current district now had a handbook, rather than a contract.
“They need to be comfortable and confident that things in a handbook carry the same weight,” he said. “We’re going to follow the letter of the law.”
After their forum, each candidate left Mark Twain for the administrative center, for a final interview with the school board. According to the board agenda, a candidate would be identified, and President Adam Holland, Director of Finance Brietta Collier and search firm Ray and Associates would finalize a salary package. At press time, a final candidate had not been selected.