March 26, 2014

Superintendent finalist Schmolze visits schools, meets with community

During a visit with a community forum, Tommy Schmolze fielded questions on curriculum, facilities, discipline and other issues brought up by the attendees.

During his session with students, teachers, administrators and community leaders, Rock Hill superintendent candidate finalist Tommy Schmolze began by talking about chicken lard.

“My name means ‘chicken lard’ in German,” he said with a laugh, when introducing himself and his name, pronounced SHHMALL’-zee.

For the next hour, Schmolze – an assistant superintendent for Fort Mill schools and a Rock Hill resident – fielded questions on everything from school safety to curriculum development.

District spokesperson Elaine Baker asked Schmolze, as she’ll ask all three finalists, what he would look for in a superintendent candidate.

“First, I’d look for passion,” he said. “If you’re not passionate about learning, you’re in the wrong profession.”

Schmolze also told the group that his role as a father has prepared him most for the position of superintendent. The families in a community trust the schools with their kids, he said, and that always needed to be in the front of their minds.

He also wasn’t shy about areas where he didn’t have experience, primarily at the elementary level, since most of his career has been spent in middle and high schools.

“If you’re looking for someone to pick a reading program, you’re looking at the wrong guy,” he said to Carrie Gaffney, a second-grade teacher at Finley Road Elementary School. “I would turn it back on you and say, ‘Hey, tell me.’”

A good deal of the discussion was devoted to school autonomy and the role of the school board.

Schmolze said he doesn’t like to think of the seven members of the school board as bosses, but as wives.

“They’re elected people, you have to validate that,” he said. “But also, it’s the weave between, ‘Let’s do our jobs’ and ‘How can I help you and your constituents.’”

Schmolze told two administrators, principal Shane Goodwin from Ebinport Elementary School and assistant principal Tony Lancaster from Northwestern High School, that he supports individual schools having a level of autonomy from the district, because the role of the principal is to run the school. He said he especially encourages principal input when it comes to issues such as designing curriculum, because principals are “the boots on the ground.”

Several questions asked addressed state and even federal education issues, such as the Common Core state standards and the letter-grade system used for rating schools.

Schmolze said he’s in full support of Common Core, because good teachers have been doing what Common Core mandates for years. He pushes back against letter grades for schools, he said, because it creates morale issues and there’s not a fair way for outside agencies to evaluate schools.

The community forum allowed specific staff members and community members to ask specific questions about Schmolze’s view on specific issues such as dealing with health issues on the school level, promoting healthy living and the role of contracting in facilities management.

Attendees at the session wrote feedback about Schmolze, which board members will look at when making their final decision.

The other two candidates, Kelly Pew, superintendent of Pickens County schools, and Richard O’Malley, superintendent of schools in Edison, N.J., will address the same group of people during their visits on Thursday and sometime next week, respectively.

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