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story.lead_photo.caption From left, Dr. Mike Moses, former commissioner of Education; Dr. Alfred Ray, retired Texas superintendent; and David Thompson, an education law attorney speak at a press conference in Texarkana on Thursday afternoon. Photo by Andrew Bell / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — What Texarkana Independent School District stakeholders want in their next superintendent, as well as the district's strengths and challenges, were big topics of discussion Thursday.

A three-person search group conducted three focus group meetings, where they spoke with a large group of citizens, including parents, teachers, administrators and others in the community, to gather information for the board.

The set of questions used in the focus groups will be available on the district's website beginning today for others to weigh in on the superintendent search. The questions will stay up for about a week.

The information gathered at these focus groups was shared with the board in a called meeting in the evening.

The qualities Thursday's focus group members want in a superintendent include someone who is highly visible, highly involved and invested in the community, said David Thompson, an education law attorney, who is part of the search group.

Also mentioned were the sorts of personal qualities that the previous two superintendents, James Henry Russell and Paul Norton, had: honesty, good communication skills, outgoing, extrovert, kindness, listener and servant leader.

Thompson said the search firm did not hear an overwhelming demand for someone with a doctorate, or someone with previous superintendent experience.

However, community members said they wanted a successful educator/teacher who is adept at dealing with diverse populations and has a strong campus leadership record. Also, someone who understands the finances of a large organization is important as is familiarity with this part of the country.

Search group officials also queried community members about the district's strengths and challenges.

Strengths included great teachers, administrators and staff; stability in key positions; investing well by hiring strong people; student diversity with different experiences and backgrounds; good interrelationships with the business community and programs that foster cooperation; strong academics; and a family-oriented community big enough to have great opportunities but small enough people do not get lost.

Challenges the district faces include: the effects of COVID-19; resources outside of school for families and children in poverty or low-income circumstances; mental and emotional needs of students; an awareness of state funding system limitations; levels of taxation; maintaining buildings to their optimum levels; competing in the open-enrollment system for students with nearby school districts; and ensuring the minority community is represented in the district"s staffing.

"We believe collecting information from the community and giving them an opportunity to identify their priorities is very helpful information for the board to have in its possession, as it then reviews applicants and goes through the interview process," Thompson said. "So, we believe it's a very important part of a search process."

The firm is still actively recruiting and receiving applications. They are scheduled to meet with the board and review applicants Oct. 6, in order to identify a group of individuals to bring in for first round interviews.

"The process from there will be some very in-depth, detailed first round interviews with a larger group of candidates, follow-up interviews with a smaller group of individuals, background searches, financial checks and reference checks," Thompson said. "Hopefully we can move in an orderly manner for the board to focus on one individual as their finalist for the position."

District officials are aiming to conduct the first round of interview for superintendent the week of Oct. 19, the second round of interviews the week of Oct. 26, conducting reference and background checks around Nov. 6 and then naming a lone finalist on Nov. 10.

The lone finalist would then sign an employment contract around Dec. 1 and start Jan. 4, Thompson said.

Acting Superintendent Autumn Thomas has held the position since July of this year, after Norton accepted the same role at Travis Lake Independent School District.

Since then, the district has been actively searching for a long-term solution here.

The search team consists of Thompson, Dr. Mike Moses, former Commissioner of Education, and Dr. Alfred Ray, retired Texas superintendent. They will go through applications that are submitted and choose the best candidates to be interviewed by the TISD Board.

"We are very honored to be selected to assist the board," Thompson said. "We've been actively recruiting. The position is currently being advertised, and we're getting very good interest. We've already received some applications."

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