Lanett City Schools speaks to superintendent candidates

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, October 29, 2019

LANETT — The Lanett City School District interviewed three candidates for its vacant superintendent position Monday night.

The district did not decide on a candidate Monday and has scheduled a meeting for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Lanett administration building to select its next superintendent.

Interviewing in a public setting Monday were Marlon Jones, director of Federal Programs at Anniston City Schools, Alicia Lyles, director of Federal Programs at the Chambers County Board of Education and Jennifer Boyd, interim superintendent at Lanett City Schools.

Email newsletter signup

Marlon Jones 

Marlon Jones has been the current director of Federal Programs for Anniston City Schools since October 2008, with a six-month stint as interim superintendent for Anniston this year from January to June. He said he applied for Anniston’s vacant superintendent job but was not selected.

Before being promoted to director of federal programs, he was a principal in the school system from 2002 to 2008 and assistant principal from 2000 to 2002. He was also an English teacher for four years at Gadsden City Schools.

Jones said he wants to lead by example as a superintendent. He said different situations call for flexibility, but overall, he wants his staff to know he would do anything he would ask of them.

“I’ve always been of the mindset that whatever I ask my people, I should be willing to do myself,” Jones said.

Also, he said he wants to be a leader with integrity, and somebody who believes in teamwork.

“It’s not about ‘I,’ it never has been, or will be — it’s about ‘we,’” he said. “Because teachers and all the faculty support staff, certified staff, they are on the front line every day doing the work.”

He said he has to be sure he is supporting them with their work, while effectively communicating if he asks them to complete a task.

Moving to technology, Jones said educators have to be sure they are staying on the front end of technology while making sure they are using the resources available.

He said children are using technology daily, so it can be a tool and a way to engage students in learning.

“We need to be sure to utilize all our grants and then leverage those funds as much as possible throughout different fund sources in the system to get the best for our students,” Jones said.

Jones said he has experience maintaining sizable budgets, including a current $4 million budget in the Anniston federal program budget. Also, as interim superintendent at the beginning of the year, he has been through the budget process and has learned to work within budgetary constraints.

“If enrollment in this is dropping on growing, you have to make adjustments based upon those changes because the largest expense in the school system is our salaries,” he said.

Jones said communication with the community and parents is one of the most important concepts for a school district. He said he’s not opposed to getting out in the community himself and hosting public forums for the public.

“If I make a decision without involvement of the people, they may feel that they may not have a vested interest in the decision,” he said. “So, we need to involve the people in everything we do. And that when I say people, I mean the student’s parents and the community.”

Jones said improving instruction within the Lanett City School System can be helped by making sure meaningful professional development is happening with its teachers.

“When we assign people to those sorts of training, we need to make sure that they come back with substantive information and that everybody benefits from it,” he said. 

Jones also said he would encourage teachers to go back to school to obtain more education.

Alicia Lyles 

Alicia Lyles has been the Federal Program Director with the Chambers County Board of Education since July of 2014. Before moving up to the director’s job, she was a guidance counselor for the school district for one year.

Lyles spent much of her career as a special education teacher from August 1990 to June 2013 for the Russell County Board of Education and the Phenix City School Systems.

Lyles said her leadership style doesn’t fit into one category, but she learned as a cheerleader coach that she likes to front-load her staff to make the expectations clear from the beginning.

She said as a leader, she feels she must learn every job, and then learn to trust the people in those jobs to perform as expected. She admitted that trusting people is a weakness.

“I front-load administrators that with information during the summer, and during the school year, all they have to do is contact me to ask questions,” Lyles said. “I’ll give them the information and then let them do their jobs.”

Lyles said technology can’t be limited to the high school level and as federal program director with Chambers County, she helped obtain a grant to support the district to get technology into the hands of every student.

“As a classroom teacher, I was one of the first people in my school where I was teaching at the time to take the program and take technology into my classroom and integrate it with my students so that they utilize it as well as I utilize it,” she said. “I think it’s important that teachers are trained in technology, so they can integrate it into the classroom, and then train the students so that they can use it.”

As a federal program director, Lyles manages about a $2.7 million budget each year and is responsible for making sure principals are correctly spending money for their schools.

She said in Chambers County, department heads sit down to clearly explain what is needed for the upcoming budget.

“We talk about the projects and what we’re going to need for our classrooms and what we’re going to need as far as budget is concerned,” Lyles said.

Communication with the community and parents isn’t foreign to Lyles. She said as a teacher, she would regularly call parents at the beginning of a school year to introduce herself and let them know what was coming in the upcoming year. Additionally, she would ensure they saw a syllabus and clearly explain what she expected out of their child.

Moreover, she talked about a monthly newsletter that would go all employees internally and to the local media about what is happening with the district.

“You let people know the good things that are going on, but you also let them know some of the things like the test scores, the academics and the finances,” she said. “You do those things so that they understand the bigger the big picture of what’s going on in your district.”

Lyles said a key to improving instructional processes in the school district starts at looking at data and finding where the problems lie.

“When we look at the deficits, we have to look at what our teachers are capable of doing and find out what the teachers are struggling with,” she said. “Some of them will tell you what they’re struggling with, so we must work with them to make sure that they get what they need to the professional development that is going to help them to improve.”

Jennifer Boyd

Jennifer Boyd has been the Lanett City Schools Superintendent since July 2019, when former superintendent Phillip Johnson retired.

Before being appointed superintendent, she was the principal at Lanett High School since July 2012. She also spent 10 years in the classroom as a business education teacher at Lanett.

She said there’s not a particular leadership style she falls within, but she feels her business background, coupled with her educational experience, gives her strengths as a leader.

“If you look at a transformational leader, that transformational leader is able to influence people because of the relationships that are built,” she said. “They have relationships in place so that people respect them.”

She said she also likes to plan, set goals and make sure people understand her expectations.

“You have to have some interpersonal skills, and you have to be relatable to people,” she said. “That is the only way that you’re going to get them to buy into whatever it is that you are selling.”

Boyd said she’s a former multimedia and computer applications instructor, so she’s big on technology, but she knows it shouldn’t be a babysitter for students.

“We bring in all this new flashy technology,” she said. “But we fail to train our staff and train students on how to use it is not just there for you to play a game.”

Boyd just led the creation of Lanett City School’s $10 million budget this past summer and said she had learned several lessons about putting together a school district’s budget.

When dealing with the community, she said opening lines of communication is essential.

“You can have the best programs in place. You can have the best facilities in place, but if your people perceive that you’re not relatable, and that you won’t listen and that you don’t take in feedback from the community and that you’re not willing to collaborate with others, it’s going to be very difficult for your plan to come to fruition,” Boyd said. 

She said there are areas of opportunity to improve by placing great emphasis on math and reading. However, she said the district could use some help from parents to cut back on chronic absenteeism.

“We have so many incentives in place, but for some reason, there still seems to be an issue with chronic absenteeism,” Boyd said. “The chronic absenteeism rate has gone down, but it’s still something that we need to continue to address.”

Lastly, Boyd addressed ways to improve instructional leadership by creating a culture to get students excited about learning.

“I don’t care what shiny programs you put in place, you have to address the climate,” she said. “You have to address the culture and for whatever reason, and it’s not just in this community … you could say there’s less emphasis on the importance of education in the home, but that’s a barrier.”

She said a superintendent must also know the morale of the teachers and students and how can a district help teachers improve as instructors.

“We must continue to offer professional development for your teachers so that they can engage students in meaningful lessons because all of that is going to lead toward great student success,” she said.