DCSD brings in superintendent candidates for community meetings

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Two candidates for the superintendent post in the Darlington County School District had face-time last week with key players in the community during sessions with local media, district staff and community members. Dr. Kevin O’Gorman and Dr. Donna Hargens toured the district and met with the various groups Feb. 21-22; the other two candidates, Dr. Chandar Anderson and Dr. Tim Newman, took a similar tour Feb. 26-27.

During the media session, O’Gorman and Hargens answered questions about their priorities, should they be offered the position, and what attracted them to Darlington County.

Dr. Kevin O’Gorman

Dr. Kevin O’Gorman said that he became aware of Darlington County School District long before he applied to be the district’s next superintendent.

“I actually started looking at Darlington County many years ago when I was a principal in a high poverty school,” O’Gorman said. “I started looking at schools across the state that were performing better than they should have been. Of those three counties, Darlington County was one of them. Actually, a curriculum model I developed is based off of what I learned from Darlington County.”

O’Gorman said that he believes Darlington County to be a good fit not only for him but also for the family that he would be bringing with him.

“When I look at my background, Darlington is just a great match,” O’Gorman said. “In addition to that, the small town feel of some of the communities is a great place to raise my own family; I’ve got two daughters that are very young and this is a great county and a great environment to raise them in.”

In light of the school shootings that too often hit the news, O’Gorman said that he views safety as the highest priority.

“Safety is the number one concern,” he said. “My own children were involved in lock-down and I listened to them come home and talk about that experience and I was comforted to know that they felt safe and they felt secure and I think it is because of the training that the teachers and the principal were involved in. I think we need to prepare all personnel, from our custodians to our principals to our SROs to our teachers, how to handle events like that.”

When asked about striking the right balance between athletics and academics, O’Gorman said that each individual student needs to be considered to help make that determination.

“I think you’ve got to focus on the future of the students,” O’Gorman said. “What are the students’ needs in terms of extra curricular activities, what are their career aspirations, what do they want to do after high school, have they had success in English but they’re struggling in math? What are their individual needs? I think that in terms of athletic programs, coaches do a great job, typically, of making sure that kids are academically successful and focusing on that.”

Coaches also serve as good role models for their student-athletes, he said.

“Every child needs an adult to associate with at school; it is really important that a child has a relationship with an adult at the school. A lot of times for our athletes that is satisfied by a coach.”

Dr. Donna Hargens

Dr. Donna Hargens agreed with O’Gorman that safety should be of the highest priority for any district.
“Safety is the number one priority,” Hargens said. “You cannot learn if you don’t feel safe, so providing for not only the physical safety but the wellbeing of the students is important. There need to be safety protocols in place. Certainly we have quality teachers and quality educators who are trained to put the safety of students as the number one priority but it is the responsibility of every school and the district to put that as the number one priority.”

Hargens said that she has worked in a district about the size of Darlington County before so she has practice balancing the different needs.

“I am drawn to Darlington County because of the diversity of the student body and because of the size of the district and all of the things that are in place,” Hargens said. “What I bring is experience…of working with an area of schools that is about the size of Darlington County, about 23 schools, experience as a superintendent, where we were able to make progress for all students and increase learning for all students. The other thing that we were able to do is mobilize the community around supporting the needs of students. Education is not just the school district’s responsibility; it is the community’s responsibility.”

Hargens said that she believes getting the community involved makes all the difference in a student’s educational experience.

“One of the things that got Jefferson County Schools going in the right direction was really having a clear goal and plan…that we were going to focus on: deeper learning, building capacity in employees and teams and improving systems,” Hargens said. “So as I moved around the community, I carried Vision 2020 with me and talked about it. It really was taking a plan that was collaboratively developed, board approved, and seeing how we could take it off the page and bring it to life.”

Bringing that plan to fruition included some hands-on work for students.

“There are jobs in the community and we know that there needs to be a jobs pipeline so we convened business leaders, look at what the jobs were actually going to be in (our area), then we connected the pathways of what kids are learning to real opportunities that are going to be there,” Hargens said. “Then you bring it people who work with kids so that they can see what they are learning with science and math in the context of a real project and perhaps a real career.”

The finalists were chosen from a pool of 25 candidates. Nine candidates were interviewed before the district named the four finalists. Full résumés of the four finalists can be found at www.darlington.k12.sc.us. Board members hope to name the new district superintendent by mid-March.

Author: Duane Childers

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