Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

TOP STORY >> PCSSD interviews hopefuls

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

“I am an agent of change,” Charles L. Hopson of Portland, Ore., told reporters Tuesday afternoon, part of his daylong interview process as a finalist for the Pulaski County Special School District’s superintendent’s job.

Rob McGill, who has been acting superintendent since the board pressured former Superintendent James Sharpe to resign last May, is among four finalists selected from five recommended by the recruitment development team of McPherson and Jacobson.

“I envision a district where race and poverty are not indicative of success,” said Hopson, 52, who has taught at Northwood Middle School.

He said in his experience, most students with disabilities or non-native English speakers can and should be mainstreamed and respond well to more rigorous schooling if they receive proper support.

On Monday, Roy “Cole” Pugh went through the interview process. McGill is slated for an interview today. Thursday, the lone woman, Vashti K. Washington, will be in the hot seat.

Pugh, who has served as superintendent of larger Texas high schools since 1990, pointed to several instances where schools he led dramatically increased benchmark scores.

Pugh is superintendent of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw School District, which has an enrollment of 16,100, slightly smaller than PCSSD.

He cited his experience working at districts with high minority enrollments with low- income and low-academic achievement.

In the 2008-2009 school year, the number of students taking advanced-placement classes doubled from the number when he arrived in 2006, he said.

Pugh said he served on 12 teams of educators who visited other Texas school districts to help improve performance.

Most people want the best for the children of a district, he said. “Why doesn’t that happen? Because of fragmented efforts.”

Pugh, 60, said he had experience in facilities planning in several districts.

He said when he became superintendent of his first district, the bank account was overdrawn and it was “circling the drain, not an experience I’d like to repeat.”

“Three years later, it was identified as the 10th-best district financially in the state,” he said.

Pugh said test scores could be increased by curriculum alignment. “They need to know the knowledge (they will be tested on),” he said.

District patrons hated to see him move on when he left, he said.

Pugh said he was seeking a position outside of Texas so that he could begin drawing his Texas retirement benefits, but that he expected to continue working at least until his seventh grade son graduated.

Pugh has a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Stephen F. Austin State University and a master’s degree from the same school in physical education. He received his Ph.D. in education from the University of Houston.

Hopson has local roots. Raised in Prescott, he was a special education teacher in the Helena/West Helena School District and for three years at Northwood Middle School in Gravel Ridge, where he began to develop his inclusive approach to education, he said.

He is deputy superintendent of district-wide programs in Portland, which has 34,546 students.

He has been an administrator in Portland Public Schools for nearly 20 years, where he said he developed a reputation for turning around test scores, improved discipline, turned around low faculty morale and eliminated systemic barriers to education of more challenged students.

“When students are affirmed and successfully engaged, discipline (problems) drop,” he said.

“We took down barriers and expanded advanced-placement opportunities for more students,” he said.

“I will argue that academic disparity is not the result of cognitive deficiency. It’s more about building a culture and framework for high expectation.”

He said at the beginning, students were begging to get out of AP classes because of the rigor. At the end of the year, he got a card signed by many of those students, some English as a second language students, saying, “Thank you for believing in us.

You took us out of classes where we felt dumb.”

He said his methods encountered “tremendous pushback from the teachers,” and that it took time for them to buy into the program. He said some left.

Hopson said he was recruited into a group of superintendents being prepared to lead some of the largest urban school districts.

“I’m supposedly one of the top six candidates (in the nation) for large urban school districts,” he said.

Asked if he would consider it a mandate by the board to implement his vision if hired, Hopson said, “The board is the policy-making entity. I’m looking for opportunities to have courageous conversations that are critical for this district. I’m looking for a cohesive voice, transparency and open dialogue.”

Hopson earned his bachelor’s in elementary/special education at the University of Central Arkansas, His master’s in elementary school administration and supervision also from UCA and In August 1993, he earned his Ph.D. in educational Policy and management at the University of Oregon at Eugene.