New Clarke County superintendent to focus on listening

Demond Means took part in meetings on Monday in his first day as Clarke County School Superintendent,

 

They were the first meetings of many to come in the next few months.

Means met first in the morning with school board member Linda Davis — he’s scheduling meetings with each board member, and Davis was the first — followed by another with a former teacher and current parent.

Then he popped briefly into a meeting of the Athens High and Industrial School/Burney Harris High School Alumni Association. They met just down the hall from in his office in a conference room of the H.T. Edwards Building, the building that once housed Burney-Harris, the public school for black students before desegregation in the 1970s.

Most of the school district’s administrative offices are in the renovated building.

After that came a meeting with Larry Hammel, the school district’s chief financial officer, which came with a geography lesson. Hammel’s office is across town in the Whitehead Annex next door to Whitehead Road Elementary School.

“I have a map,” he said before driving off to learn about the school district’s finances.

One more meeting came in the afternoon, with Hilsman Middle School principal Utevia Tolbert, who wanted to begin to get to know the new superintendent.

Means may have been busier still on Tuesday, when his schedule included a talk with school board resident Charles Worthy, two committee meetings, a Chamber of Commerce meeting and closing on a house in the Timothy Road area.

That’s his plan as he begins his new job; to listen, getting to know people and the Athens community.

“I believe that is how you build relationships and trust,” he said. “For the next 100 days, I’m going to listen as much as possible.”

Coming in and telling people what they should be doing right off would be a mistake, he said.

“That’s poor leadership in my opinion,” he said.

Means left a secure job in a much different school system in Wisconsin to succeed Phillip Lanoue as Clarke County schools superintendent. The Mequon-Thiensville district is about a fourth the size of Clarke County, is in one of the state’s wealthiest counties, and has a low minority enrollment.

The Clarke County School District by contrast is high-poverty, high minority.

“Poverty is a factor. I don’t want to dismiss it, but it can’t be an excuse,” Means said.

Means knew Athens had a high poverty rate and the educational challenges that go with that when he sought and then accepted the job.

“I knew where were some challenges here,” he said. “If you are not challenged then you’re not doing something right. I enjoy challenges, so there’s a lot for me to enjoy in Clarke County.”

But he does aim to do “the work that I’m passionate about and is critical to making Clarke County the very best district it can be.” He describes that work with words such as equitable, socially just and accountable.

“The biggest challenge is always to improve our academic standing, but it’s not all about academics,” he said. “It’s also about making sure the experience kids have is a healthy one and a positive one.”

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

 

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