Moss named finalist for S.C. superintendent post

Beaufort BOE has narrowed list to three
Feb. 09, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The head of Lee County schools apparently has made an impression on school district officials in Beaufort County, S.C. — where he is one of three finalists for an open superintendent position.

According to a news release from the Beaufort County School District, located between Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., Lee Superintendent of Schools Jeff Moss was selected from among a pool of seven candidates interviewed by the school board earlier this week. The statement names Kathryn LeRoy, director of high school programs for Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., and Gloria J. Davis, superintendent of Decatur Public Schools in Decatur, Ill., as the other two finalists.

The new hire would be replacing Valerie Truesdale, according to the news release, who retired in October and accepted a senior position in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District. Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based firm chosen to coordinate the search, reported receiving 122 applications from candidates in 42 states.

"I'm honored that they had [nearly] 125 applications and selected me as one of the top three," Moss said. "I think that speaks highly of the work we've been able to accomplish in Lee County."

Moss said both he and his wife have family in South Carolina, which was one reason for his interest in the job.

"And they're a technology district, as we are," Moss said, adding that Beaufort, like Lee County, has invested in the digital tools to help students be successful in the classroom.

Although she declined to comment on Moss specifically, Mary Cordray, vice chairman of the Beaufort County School Board, said, "the three finalists are all different, but they're all good choices."

"We think we have an excellent group of finalists; we're looking for the best fit for our district," she said. "We're obviously looking for someone to lead us to the next level."

Laura Bush, school board secretary and chairman of the superintendent search committee, added, "All three equally meet the criteria we're looking for, and I wish them all success."

A flyer about the district's superintendent search, accessed through its website, states that officials are seeking "an experienced leader" for its "diverse and fast-growing community of learners and educators" — comprised of more than 20,000 pre-k through grade 12 students within 30 schools.

The chosen candidate's salary would be in the range of $215,000 plus a comprehensive benefits package, according to the flyer, which lists an extensive array of traits the new superintendent should have, including "leadership skills required to respond to the challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community" and "successful experience in sound management practices, including appropriate participation of others in planning and decision-making."

The district is also seeking "a strong communicator," as well as someone "strongly committed to a 'student first' philosophy in all decisions" and who "inspires trust, self-confidence, and models high standards of integrity and personal performance with the ability to develop and communicate a vision of quality education for the future to the board, staff and community."

According to Lee School Board President Lynn Smith, who said he was contacted as a reference for Moss, the superintendent fits the descriptions of what Beaufort, and many other districts, are looking for in their leader.

"My initial thoughts are of course I'm pleased we have a superintendent who has the qualifications and the credentials to be a desirable candidate in other districts," Smith said. "Having said that, I have to say I'd be greatly disappointed if he leaves us. I think he's done a superb job, and I hope he decides Lee County is where he wants to stay."

A synopsis of Moss's professional background on the Beaufort School District's website notes his appointment to his present Lee County position in January 2009 — as well as his prior experience as as superintendent of Beaufort, N.C. County Schools and Stanly County Schools. Also listed are a number of his accomplishments while in Lee County — including the 1:1 laptop program for students in grades 3-12, creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math middle and high school initiative, and expanding access to foreign language learning in grades K-12

"Under his leadership, the district’s graduation rate has risen dramatically and the dropout rate has fallen, especially among minority and economically disadvantaged students," the synopsis states. "He has served on the state superintendent’s Career-Ready Commission, chaired NCASA’s committee for performance pay, the Gates Foundation Pre-K-14 project planning board, and was instrumental in the development of the Head of Class Project, an incentive pay plan for teachers and staff funded through the Lee County Education Foundation."

Several more of Moss's recognitions were mentioned, including his North Carolina Technology in Education Society 2011 Outstanding Leader Award, his 2012 Outstanding Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Administrator for N.C. distinction, and his nominations for the International Society for Technology in Education Outstanding Leader award and the North Carolina Superintendent of the Year award.

Smith, in addition, praised Moss's "ability to innovate and bring new things to the table to enhance learning in our district" — namely challenging students to enroll in higher level classes.

"As we increase our expectations and opportunities, our students rise to the occasion," Smith said. 

Moss came under criticism in October of last year following a political forum, where he allegedly cursed during a heated exchange with a group of conservative attendees. Although some of the exchange was said to be captured on video, Moss said at a speech shortly after that "at no time did I use profanity on that tape." The school board took no publicly reported action following the incident.

Before making its hire, Beaufort has planned a second round of interviews and a series of public forums, each featuring one of the three candidates. Moss's forum is set for Wednesday, Feb. 13, from 7-8 p.m. at the district office at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort. The candidates will make a brief opening statement and then answer questions from the audience.

The Beaufort School Board reportedly wants to have a new superintendent under contract by the first week in March, although the selected candidate would probably not start until July 1, according to the news release.

As for the prospect of leaving Lee County, Moss said, "There's still a long way to go between being a finalist and being selected."

The public will be able to comment on the finalists using paper forms at the forums, or electronic forms that will be available on the school district’s website, http://www.beaufort.k12.sc.us/, as of Feb. 12.