The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 15, 2012

New leadership

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Raleigh County Superintendent James Brown was a freshman in college when he realized working with kids was his life’s path. He said he was offered the opportunity to work with the Special Olympics and it was his experience bonding with a young girl that made him realize the educational system was an area in which he could make a difference.

And his philosophy today is still that the school systems should be based on what is best for children.

“We are stewards of children and parents instill trust in us. We have to make sure we respect that trust and accountability is the key. We want to make sure that all children have the opportunity to explore their dreams — whether the dreams are entering the work force, attending college, learning a vocational trade or joining the military,” he said.

“Our job is to maximize their potential.”

Over the past two weeks on the job, Brown has met with the central office administrators and learned about the schools’ success and looked at the current five-year strategic plan. He said the critical starting place for the county is to revamp the plan to focus on the district’s work.

“There is a really solid plan in place and we want to take that plan and build on it. Raleigh County Schools has been a model for the state for many years, but we know education is changing. We really have to focus on broadening our expectations so students are equipped with those 21st-century skills they need to be successful,” he explained.

He said that the next several years will focus on infusing technology into instructional practices and making sure students are going to be competitive within the school, state and global society.

One key element, because technology progresses so quickly, will be to invest in the types of technology that will be sustainable and won’t be outdated over a period of time, he said.

In terms of infrastructure, Raleigh County and Raleigh County Schools are very solid, he said, but over the next two years, the state-mandated adoption of downloadable, digital books will be a “very powerful step” for the county and state.

“That is an area of concern and focus for us as we look at how we are going to develop that plan and implement it on a large scale,” Brown said.

Brown added that he has tremendous respect for former superintendent Dr. Charlotte Hutchens.

“She has truly left a remarkable legacy as superintendent. We want to build upon her success,” he explained.

He also stresses that, for him, the superintendent’s job is to drive a team.

“I truly believe in the distribution of leadership. That is one thing I am going to concentrate on at the district and school levels, making sure we have highly effective leadership teams to drive the work with the help of teachers and support personnel. Leadership is not a top-down model in my mind.

“We are going to make decisions based on what is best for children. We have to support our teachers and personnel to make sure they have the tools and resources to do the job,” he added.

He believes that becoming a father to a son (now college-age) made him a stronger teacher and administrator. As a parent he understood what it meant to entrust his son to the care of his teachers and the school system.

Brown came to Raleigh County after spending two years as the state-appointed superintendent of McDowell County Schools. Before that he worked for the state Department of Education in the Department of Special Programs where he made sure special education programs across the state were in compliance. Prior to that, Brown spent 23 years in Tyler County as a teacher, principal and central office administrator.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com