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Meet our new superintendent of schools

A high-energy person with high expectations for Hernando, he won't hesitate to speak out.

By TOM MARSHALL
Published April 8, 2007


Members of the Hernando County School Board last week accomplished what some have called their most important mission: reaching a contract agreement with a new superintendent to succeed the retiring Wendy Tellone.

So who is Wayne Alexander?

The Connecticut school administrator talked recently with the Times about education, leadership and the duties of a Boston Red Sox fan.

 

How does a newcomer to a district like Hernando, and a first-time superintendent, establish authority and get everyone moving in the same direction?

I think my energy will become contagious. I'm a high-energy person. High expectations for myself, as well as everyone around me. But it starts with (discovering) what's important for people, and listening and learning. I don't think you should ever come in, regardless of the district, and make these rapid changes.

 

You've been in education since 1983, first as a teacher and then as an administrator. Has public education gotten better or worse from your perspective?

I think it's gotten better in the sense of the accountability piece, the emphasis on achievement for all students regardless of their background.

I think that desire, the goal and the focus is appropriate. But I think it has broken down a little bit. I think it's accountability at all costs. And if you know kids, you know that they learn in a variety of styles. When you place a great deal of emphasis on paper-and-pencil assessment across the board for all kids, then we lose out on some of the learning styles where some kids can be highly successful and effective.

 

There are so many national conversations going on right now about education - everything from No Child Left Behind to class size, basic skills and funding. What's at the top of your list of important things for a school district to talk about?

I think it varies from place to place. I think Hernando brings a unique set of problems or challenges - I'd rather look at them as challenges - in terms of the growth piece.

How do you maintain a high standard of expectation and a commitment to excellence while growth is occurring rapidly around you, especially in Hernando? I mean, I don't know the board's priorities yet, but I have a strong sense that that's a top issue that we have to address.

 

Should superintendents get up on the bully pulpit to lobby and try to steer the statewide and national education agenda, or do they belong at home in their districts pushing quiet changes?

I think they should follow their passion, and what they feel strongly about. I think they should be heard. You are the advocate and spokesman for your district as the instructional leader. And if there's something coming down the pipeline that's in some way going to impact the resources or instruction of your children, your kids, then you need to step up to the plate and do that.

 

I'm sure you've had some good bosses and perhaps a few weak ones during your career. What was the most effective thing you ever saw an administrator do - or the most effective thing you did - to solve a problem?

The greatest success that I have seen and witnessed was an all-out communication process, a buy-in of stakeholders, just "open the box and see what flies out" kind of approach (in New London). Saying every member of this community is important, and just turning it upside down and saying, "What are we really good at or proud of? And what do we need to look at changing?" I think the current superintendent right now has really done a great job of doing that, and I've watched a lot of that and been part of that as a central office team.

 

You've worked in school districts in both New England and Florida. Have you seen differences in how those regions view or support public education?

Florida has got a lot of things in place, a lot of programs in place that you can tap into as a school, as a district, to try and meet the diverse needs of kids - to find those hooks. Public education, for me, is about finding the hooks, what hooks the child's interest, what's going to motivate him. How is he or she going to see that connection to the learning process and make meaning out of all of this reading, writing and arithmetic?

I think New England still has a bit of that elitist attitude, you know, the "birthplace of education," and I think it sometimes sits back on some of its successes.

 

But you are a Red Sox fan, right?

Red Sox fan, through and through. I was talking to people about what I'll miss in New England: seafood, because Florida just doesn't have any seafood (he laughs), and I'll miss the Red Sox. Because it's been a religious event, since I was 7 years old, to never miss a game. I'll have to get a digital TV to keep up with them, and make sure I get to the St. Pete games.

 

What will students see you doing for fun on weekends here in sunny Florida?

You'll see me outdoors. I like to golf, I love to fish, just enjoying the environment and getting outside. Just being as physically active as I can. Because we'll be working some long hours.

 

WHERE HE STANDS

Wayne S. Alexander

Age: 46

Education: Doctorate in educational leadership, Nova Southeastern University; master's degree in school administration and special education administration, Providence College.

Experience: Director of school operations and human resources, New London (Conn.) Public Schools; former high school principal, assistant principal, and special education teacher in New England and Sarasota; consultant for the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Family: Divorced, father of a 24-year-old daughter and sons ages 21 and 22.

On Hernando's administrative structure: "I was amazed at the fact that you have three executive directors and the amount of work they have to get done."

On dealing with under-performing administrators: "My challenge is to test the water, get a sense for the validity. There's usually three stories in a room: yours, theirs, and somewhere in the middle, the truth."

On equity among Hernando schools: "There was a sense among many of the community members that there are have and have-not schools. If that is the truth, Wayne, what are you going to do about that?"

On his priorities in the first 90 days: "I think my top priority would be to ask for lots of things, because you get everything you want for the first 90 days." (He laughs.)