W-JCC superintendent releases transition plan

Just listen.

That is one of Olwen Herron's first moves as leader of Williamsburg-James City County Schools.

Not only is listening the first bullet point under phase one of her official transition plan, it's what she's been doing for years.

"Everybody that talks about her says she's soft spoken and she listens and she's approachable. She's always taking notes, thinking before she speaks," Williamsburg Education Association president Kim Hundley said. "She is our leader, but it's like she's one of us."

Herron would sometimes come to the association's meetings with former superintendent Steve Constantino; she was his deputy from 2012 until August 2016 when she took over as interim superintendent upon his resignation.

Although she didn't speak up often, when she did it was insightful and genuine, Hundley said.

Goals

On Feb. 7, the School Board officially appointed Herron as CEO of the 11,300-student school division.

Despite being familiar with the division — which Hundley said is an asset — Herron felt she should create a plan to detail her goals and actions as she moves from acting to actual superintendent.

As acting, her job was to hold the division steady until a new superintendent was chosen. Now that she's in charge, she said she can enact real change.

The plan outlines how she will achieve her personal goals in the schools, as a precursor to a division-wide strategic plan, to be developed later this summer.

"I want to make sure that it's focused on schools and student achievement," Herron said. "That's my goal."

That document was posted online Thursday. She said she also emailed it to division staff, encouraging them to take a look.

Phase one details her goals for her transition period, March through June. Broadly, her five transition topics include improving student achievement and equity, governance with the School Board, community and public engagement, work place culture and leadership effectiveness.

Within each section, Herron lists tasks to achieve certain goals. She will continue exploring student achievement through the Equity through Engagement presentation series at the School Board work sessions, which she established as interim superintendent.

Her organizational culture goal is to, "Establish a respectful, positive school division culture centered on teaching and learning." That goal is closely aligned with the other organizational section, which is to ensure the division's structure is as effective and efficient as possible.

For culture, she will create focus groups, assess quality of internal communication and review exit surveys and responses from the division's staff climate survey. On the effectiveness side, an organizational change-up could be on the horizon.

"I've been trying to get some insight before I change the structure," Herron said.

That's why she has yet to hire a deputy superintendent. She said she wants to know how best to use that position before filling it.

Promises

Schools advocate Beth Haw has been outspoken at School Board meetings for decades, and she's happy with Herron's appointment.

"I like what she wants to do," Haw said. "We've had a lot of promises from superintendents to get things done and I think she's been listening, she listens to what the people want."

Herron has a plan to keep the public updated on her promises, to know she's following through. By April the transition plan posted online will have boxes next to each action so Herron can check them off as she goes.

She said it's an effort at transparency, which falls in line with her public relations and engagement goals.

"I think as a community we have to make her accountable, and as a superintendent she has to keep her staff accountable," Haw said. "I don't think our community can wait any longer."

Phases two and three of her plan are normal superintendent duties: to create and implement a five-year strategic plan. July and August are for planning with implementation to start in September.

Herron said she wasn't sure if she would hire an outside firm to help create the plan under her guidance. There is $30,000 set aside in the FY18 budget for strategic planning.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Transition plan:

To read the plan, visit bit.ly/2mAzJaL

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