All participants answered similar questions, usually in different order

By Mary Alice Murphy

The first applicant to speak was Curtis Clough, Silver Consolidated Schools associate superintendent.

He said he has spent 31 years in education, with 21 in administration, with his last three years here in the associate superintendent position. "I've done everything, teacher, principal, athletic director, superintendent, associate superintendent."

Q: What is your plan for the decreases of small schools funding issue?

Clough: We must leverage every dollar available, by seeking grants, additional federal and state funding. We have had more sustainability in teachers over the past few years, but I want to grow the school.

Q: What are your strategies for additional funding for Silver Consolidated Schools?

Clough: We held a community dialogue and talked about components for the K-12 programs. Tech education came up high. We got $500,000 from the Economic Development Administration to continue with the dialogue. We have also gotten involved with Perkins grants and we received funding from Freeport McMoRan to work on career and tech ed. I'm also on the Prospectors community lobbying group and I write all of the grants.

Q As superintendent, how will you participate in the community?

Clough: I already am involved in the community. I am vice president of the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce board of directors; I'm the current chair of the Prospectors. I am already embedded in the community. Since I came in, we have built bridges with the community and many partners, and the schools collaborate with the university and the community.

Q: How will you create districtwide pride?

Clough: The great thing about this community is its people. I'm proud of how we've come out of this situation of not being a true part of the community. We need to start recognizing and promoting our successes. We need to talk about the successes of our teachers, our students and our administrators. We must promote ourselves. We're all in it together. I listen to ideas.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Clough: Hopefully as Silver Consolidated Schools superintendent. I have maintained my consistency. Our kids are incredible, in robotics, in athletics, in National History competition. We also have great parents. What I really enjoy is the relationships with people in the community.

Q: How are you your best person?

Clough: It's not about me. My goal is to make everyone better. I'm their biggest critic and their biggest cheerleader. I want to grow the students and staff. I'm never offended when someone suggests how we can be better. I'm invested in people. Education is not going back to what we were pre-COVID. We've learned and we've grown. I will continue to invest in people in the best interests of the students and staff.

Q: What are the three biggest issues facing education?

Clough: First is the budget. We have to maximize how we use funds to provide the best for students and staff. We need to engage the community. Two, we're looking at a 28 percent statewide loss of teachers. We need to work with the universities to show that teaching is a viable career opportunity. Three, we need to engage the community. We did a pretty good job pre-COVID. We promoted CTE and got the employers together. We want discussions on what is best for the students and the teachers. I have engaged HMS (Hidalgo Medical Services) to provide mental health services in the clinic. A lot of our parents have used our clinics for their children's health care, and they're been closed for a year.

Q: How do you plan to communicate with the community?

Clough: We need a consistent communication plan. We need it districtwide. We have a Facebook page, an all call to parents. I'm connected on all the message boards. We have to learn how to coordinate the efforts that we had going pre-COVID. I think a lot of people are now more comfortable with virtual learning. We need to use more social media to get our messages out.

Q: How do you plan to integrate things vertically and horizontally?

Clough: I know everyone gets caught up with the standards. The state has 36 sixth-grade standards. We have to determine which ones are the most viable. We will have to deal with learning loss as a result of the virtual learning platform and COVID. We need to enter into active dialogue on what students need. We incorporate regular subject areas into career tech. We don't have to do everything just by the subject content. We need to embed math, STEM and English into tech ed, career tech and all subjects. We have to look at the whole student, the entire child, whether his or her interest is in arts, athletics, music, drama. We have to embark on a process to address these issues from pre- COVID to post-COVID.

Q: How will you delegate authority and keep people accountable?

Clough: As superintendent, I will always be held accountable. I would perhaps want re-align the superintendent and associate superintendent roles. I would accept continuous feedback. Accountability is about learning and growing. We have to put in structures horizontally and vertically. There has to be a partnership with each building and organization. In my experience, accountability is considered negative. I consider it positive. If you need help, ask for help and support. We have to communicate regularly. I get my recognition from the people I work with.

Q: How will you address ongoing curriculum improvement?

Clough: A test score is only a one-time snapshot. We have to look at the full student. What are the power standards? We can't expect students to succeed at everything. Look at what the student excels at and is interested in. Teach them skills for the best impact. We have to focus on success rather than content. We must teach more in a way to engage the student through curriculum. We need to pick teachers' brains for what their students need.

Q: What is your stance on fair and equitable collective bargaining and what is your philosophy on it?

Clough: I view it as positive. I've been on both sides, as a teacher and as an administrator. It's a give and take. Do we look at virtual teaching as a separate position? We've done a good job at coming together. We have an informational meetings process all the time. Collective bargaining needs to be collaborative and adaptable. We have to look at how to prioritize and how to continue to improve.

Q: With anticipated budget cuts, what two areas would you look at to save money?

Clough: I would want to save all staff if possible. We know we will lose revenue because of area mining job losses. We will look at the CARES Act and how we can put it to use for mental health services and to address food insecurity. I would put the kids and the staff first. We are part of the COVID task force in the community. And our IT director Ben Potts is looking at expanding internet access. The two issues are that we will not know how much we will lose until we get the numbers and when. We think the big hit will happen in August.

Q: If someone did a Google search on your name, what would they find?

Clough: I've been open and upfront about what's out there about me referring to Strasburg. What you will find is not totally true. Board members put out lies about me, 10 years ago. I would ask you to look at my performance at my last three jobs. Would you want to be judged on what happened 10 years ago? I'm here for the best interest of student. Judge me on what you see now.

Q: What is your vision for Silver Consolidated Schools?

Clough: We have the potential to be among the top 10 school districts in the state. At the elementary level, we need to look at the best way for the students to learn, whether it is in-person, hybrid or virtual. We want to maximize access to all school. Should we remain neighborhood schools or create specialized schools, such as for academics or career tech? We have to look at each building. What do we need to do? We have to have partnership with the parents to get their kids to school. Schools are the brightest stars in the community. I'm willing to listen and adjust. I think every staff member wants the best for their students. We offer different pathways for students. Give each student the framework and tell them to go for it. I plan to do a collaborative effort.

Q: As you look back on the past year, what motivates you?

Clough: The staff and the kids motivate me. I do this because of the people. This has been the toughest year for education. But dealing with people and the students have kept me going. I hope the community sees that everything I've done is what is in the best interest of the students. I'm proud of the staff, too. That's why I want to stay here. We got run through the wringer, but I have a lot of friends who have encouraged me. I want what's best for the kids.

Q: This is probably not a good question for you. How do you plan to relocate?

Clough: We already own a house here.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Clough: I'm appreciative of being part of this process. This year has been difficult, but a lot of good has come out of it. I get the credit for what you, the staff, board and students have done during this year. I will keep working as hard as I can. A lot of good things will happen in the district. I understand the amount of work that everyone has done.

 

The next applicant was William "Will" Hawkins of Hobbs.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

Hawkins: I am assistant human resources superintendent and associate superintendent of curriculum in Hobbs. We have three kids, one in college, one in seventh grade and one in fourth. My wife teaches second grade. I've been in education for 23 years. I'm an Eagle Scout and went to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron.

Q: What is your plan under the small school funding issue?

Hawkins: We must have critical conversations with the business office. We don't yet know what it looks like, and whatever we can do we will do.

Q: What are examples of what you will do?

Hawkins: We need to promote our district so people know about it and will support you at the state level.

Q: As superintendent and community leader, how do you become part of the community?

Hawkins: We have already looked at houses, so we're looking forward to being a part of the community. I would be part of boards that the superintendent is already serving on. I would love to take part in the Boy Scouts program. I will participate where I can, whether it be at churches, civic organizations, wherever I can be of use.

Q: What is your plan to build district-wide excellence and pride?

Hawkins: I have to make sure we have an inviting school. I would look at processes. I would look at everything that shows the place is a good place. We can be our best advertisers. Are we putting out positive messages, being approachable and reliable?

Q: Where do you plan to be five years from now?

Hawkins: I would like to be here as superintendent. This was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I'm looking for a place like this for home. Five years from now, I want this to be home.

Q: How do you lead by example?

Hawkins: Character counts. As a principal, I would do hot dogs for the athletic events. I would hope I could be that person being out there as part of events in the community. I want to enjoy what people do. I realize the awesome responsibility of leading our school.

Q: What are the critical issues you will face?

Hawkins: Seeing the decline of student enrollment is a big issue. We must reassure students and parents that we have their best interests at heart. It's going to be vital to take advantage of technology and what are we capable of doing with blended instruction. The job responsibilities won't change necessarily, but COVID has pushed us forward. We must reassure the safety of staff and students. The elephant in the room is the budget. I would love to collaborate with the community. We have amazing resources here.

Q: How do you plan to communicate with all the stakeholders?

Hawkins: I prefer face-to-face, which I believe eliminates confusion. I'll go where I need to go. I will use radio and take questions. We can use Facebook Live to engage.

Q: How will you horizontally and vertically integrate the curriculum?

Hawkins: I follow the logic of meeting test standards. I think we can have a horizontal common assessment for third grade, for example. We could use it to determine whether we are reaching standards. The state released a scope and sequence in the model of Common Core. I don't know if the state will keep that. If we have the scope and sequence, we've got to have common assessments to make sure the students can meet the standards, but we need to provide training for the teachers to be creative. We have to constantly vet the process, making sure we have a common assessment district-wide. We have to develop a positive culture and let the passion of the teachers lead.

Q: How will you delegate responsibilities?

Hawkins: I believe in site-based responsibility. The teachers and the principal at a school are responsible. I would back off and let them go with what they do best. I would like people to do what they do best, but I want to collaborate and work together. As a team we will tackle the problem. No one micromanages custodians, why should we try to micromanage teachers?

Q: How will you organize the curriculum so that students succeed?

Hawkins: It starts with the curriculum and we have to look at the alignment with the state curriculum and state assessments. You have to have a conversation with the curriculum team. Pull in the experts, which are your teachers and do this throughout the year. We need a committee to review successes and problems. If we realize we're struggling with an assessment, we need the team reviewing it. We have to monitor for success. We have to cultivate it.

Q: What is your stance on collective bargaining and your philosophy on it?

Hawkins: On a regular basis, it's what I do. Hobbs does not have collective bargaining. But I believe in inherent fairness. I want to be able to look you in the face and find us respecting one another. We have to work to have the best for everyone. We're all in it for the best for kids. I have negotiated tons of contracts. The HR person will take the lead, do what's right, what's fair, what's best for the kids and be consistent.

Q: With budget concerns, what are the first two areas you would cut and how would you use the CARES Act funding?

Hawkins: The CARES Act helps technology to cover deficiencies. I'm a conservative budget person. I want as much school as we can afford, while making sure to take care of staff. I would make sure we can continue to reward staff. 85 percent to 87 percent of most school budgets is staff salaries. Make plans for the future. Develop a plan to build a cash balance to deal with emergency, but make sure you have a great program for the teachers and students. Provide programming that provides for students. We also have to protect music and the arts. It's a big conversation to have, with a short-term and long-term plan. You should never hear, it's a budget tight year or hear we're going to have to cut this or that. I would want to be as positive as I can be.

Q: What would someone find in a Google search for your name?

Hawkins: You would find that I also live in North Carolina, and you might find information for ads that I created in Hobbs. I'm also a school board member in the community and you will see my involvement with kids.

Q: What is your vision for Silver Consolidated Schools?

Hawkins: With six elementary schools including the pre-K and Cliff, I want to continue to be a regional leader. Maybe create a new online gaming culture as an extra-curricular activity. I know the upper level is achieving well. We need the elementary schools to do better. I want the students to feel like the school is a home, so once they graduate, they will come back to visit with a teacher. I want them to have pride in the school. I want them to speak about where they've been and what the school will be in the future. I want us back in the top 25 percent of state schools.

Q: What do you see after looking over the past year?

Hawkins: We had to shut down schools across the county. Once we had to do remote, we quickly had to learn how to do it. How we collaborated in the virtual world was a whole new situation that forced us to use regularly what we were uncomfortable with. If you think we will go back to where we were, it's not happening. We got pushed forward. We have to meet the kids where they are. There is a lot of potential to move education forward, not only by necessity.

Q: How do you plan to relocate?

Hawkins: My wife and I have already looked at houses. I want to move here. We even looked at Cliff. We are looking forward to living here.

Q: Anything else you would like to say?

Hawkins: I talk a lot. Did I convey what I wanted to say about teams, having an inviting school and a positive message? I want to make sure that when parents come to the school it's for a positive reason. I am a relational person. I like to be deliberative. This is a hard way for me to operate, because I want to see the faces and know what you'll take away from the experience. If we think about our experiences, we may not agree, but if we have a positive experience, it makes it easier. I hope I conveyed that I will take care of the kids, take care of the district and take care of the teachers and staff.

The next article will cover the last two candidates.