Q&A: How the new Hawkins director of schools responded to BOE questioning

Jeff Bobo • Oct 24, 2018 at 9:45 AM

ROGERSVILLE — On Monday evening, the Hawkins County Board of Education voted 7-0 to hire San Jacinto, California, Assistant Superintendent Matt Hixson to be the next director of schools, but not before he answered questions submitted by all seven school board members.

The following are excerpts of his opening statement, as well as some of the questions he was asked and excerpts of his answers.

Matt Hixson’s opening statement

“I know that trust and communication and relationships are critical for this position and for the board to move forward and grow this district into the district that it is headed to be and that it can become. I think those are the strengths I bring to the table. Obviously relationships first and foremost with you all and making sure I'm clear on what your community needs, what your members need, and what your stakeholders need, and steering the district in a way that meets those needs with the financial resources that we're given, and the great talents that are in the district and represented in the room here this evening.”

"I am not a seasoned superintendent, so I will need your help and I will need the staff's help as an outsider coming in. However, I do have a lot of experience in recruiting, hiring, unfortunately making tough decisions on cutting if we get to that point. Those are all experiences I would bring, as well as my sight level (experience) as a principal.”

Board member questions and Hixson’s answers

Bob Larkins: If you are selected as the director of schools, please explain how you would evaluate employees in your administrative staff, including principals, to determine if they are the best fit for the position?

Hixson: I would want to meet with each of those principals and get a feel for what they see are the needs for those school sites, what they feel they are doing well, and then see them in action. I would not evaluate anyone without sitting down with them, seeing them in action, seeing how they lead instruction at their school site, how they lead the teachers, how they employ the classified (instructional support staff) in support of those teachers, and seeing if they are staying true to what they determined are the goals for their schools.

I'm a hands-on manager, I'm a hands-on management style. I do not micro-manage, but I want to make sure I'm setting clear expectations and clear outcomes and then letting the staff see things out.

Debbie Shedden: Can you describe your plan to not only hire quality teachers for our system, but also retain them. Our district is surrounded by counties that offer competitive and sometimes better pay then we can.

Hixson: We struggle with the same thing within the district I serve now, and I'm in charge of recruitment and retention there. What I have found is the stronger family you create for the staff, the less likely they are to leave. We are surrounded by areas in Souther California ... that pay more, that offer more benefits, but we hold our own because they know at the end of the day we have supported them every step of the way, and we are family at the end of the day. We work together, we struggle together, we celebrate together, and we truly, at the end of the day, have each other's backs.

Teachers are not celebrated enough. Support staff is not celebrated enough. I think one thing we can do is celebrate the good work they do each and every day. We don't do a good enough job of that, so under my leadership, I would hope that we could increase that.

Jackie Charles: Coming from Southern California, what will you do to adapt yourself to the unique culture of the Appalachian region?

Hixson: I'm a people person. My wife laughs when I say that because I've always said I'd rather blend in to the back and lead from behind, and I like to support and let everyone else get the spotlight. I'm still that person. However, what I've been doing the past couple of weeks is spending time in the community. Prior to today, I flew out two days ago. Prior to the last interview, I flew out a coupe of days in advance and I spent time at local eateries. I spent time in the communities. I made it a point to talk to people in the gas stations. I made it a point to talk to people in the grocery store. One of the first things we did was we went to the Walmart, and guess what? You don't charge for bags. And I got a plastic straw in my cup. So yes, all those things people hear about California are true. I am a small community person at heart. I live in a rural agricultural community now that's much like Rogersville. If you picked up my community and dropped it in Rogersville, they'd be very similar. Very hard working folks. Very concerned with education and safety. Very concerned with their child's future. And very, very helpful.

Kathy Cradic: How would you react to a situation in which a teacher was bullying a student?

Hixson: That absolutely cannot happen. If the principal knows what’s going on in the classroom, there would be some accountability for the principal. However, there are situations that occur. That first-time instance needs to be dealt with heavy handedly, the right way, and it needs to be stopped. First and foremost, you need to correct behavior. You have to hold people accountable for their actions. A teacher going after a student is the worst kind of public perception that a public school system could face, whether it’s bullying that results in physical harm, verbal harm, or God forbid, sexual harm. We have dealt with those situations in Southern California, and those folks are no longer teaching for us, and we make sure they no longer teach in California. I would treat that with the same level of consequence here.

Holly Helton: What is your vision for the future of Hawkins County Schools?

Hixson: We prepare our students, and we give them the desire to come back to Hawkins County and work in our schools. We give them the tools necessary to come back and work in our communities. We give them the necessary skills and knowledge to come back and support industry that may be coming in years from now that we don't even know about. We give them the skills and tools necessary to learn and apply the technology we don't even know will be around the corner. The data suggests that students who graduate this year, by the time they get out of college, will already be on average 2.5 years behind where they need to be by the time they get their bachelor’s. I think we're doing them a disservice if we're not looking at what we can prepare our students for across the board. That's through strengthening the CTE program and giving kids vocational skills.

Chris Christian: Should a student be required to attend class a certain number of days before they are allowed to pass that course?

Hixson: I think that needlessly having students stay in a course or stay in class after they've demonstrated mastery, or after they've demonstrated that they know that subject, is one of those things that education fails at. We need to do a better job of allowing for those challenge opportunities to engage and challenge those (advanced) kids just as much as we differentiate for our remedial students. If we look at, we're not passing you because you weren't here, even though you demonstrated mastery, I think we're doing that student a disservice.

Tecky Hicks: State funding penalizes smaller schools, but if they're performing well would you fight to keep them open?

Hixson: A lot of our small schools are the tightest communities. A lot of our small schools are in communities that look to those schools for not only support during a school day, but many hours before and after school. A lot of those students eat best when school is in session. All those things added up make it exceedingly tough when that funding scenario (of small schools receiving less state money) occurs.



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