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NNPS superintendent search continues, community can fill out survey

School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law assured everyone more people are sharing their opinions online. She says 1,000 have already filled out the survey.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Thursday night was the first public input meeting on who should be the next Newport News Superintendent.

Dr. George Parker was fired from the role as part of the fallout after police say a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, in a classroom at Richneck Elementary School.

After months of parents and teachers pushing for the school board to listen to their input on who should run the division, only four people showed up to Thursday's meeting. Only two of them spoke at the podium.

However, don't let the small crowd size deceive you. School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law said more than 1,000 have already shared their thoughts in an online survey.

In the empty cafeteria at Menchville High School, Newport News parent Fred Sawyer was the first to speak.

"Everything that George Parker III, his whole philosophy, get someone who has the opposite philosophy," he said.

Sawyer told Surles-Law and school board members Terri Best, Rebecca Aman and Douglas Brown he hopes they will hire someone who will put safety first.

"Who is willing to listen to parents first and foremost? Right under the parents are the teachers who are the ones who have to deal with this on a day-to-day basis," he said.

Newport News Education Association President James Graves spoke on behalf of the union, saying they want someone in the role who is approachable.

"They want a superintendent that’s able to go to every single school, walk those school hallways, talk to those students and teachers. And that the teachers can be comfortable enough to talk to their superintendent," Graves said.

Elizabeth Smoot has taught in the division for six years. She said she wants the school board to hire someone who will have the staff’s back.

"Really focus on what’s happening in the classrooms with the teachers. So, very supportive and very in tune to the staff, in tune to the students," she said.

Smoot said she came Thursday night to observe and will likely speak at the next public session. She said she was disappointed in the low turnout.

"It really is a concern. I was hoping more people would come out to support Newport News Public Schools," Smoot said.

Surles-Law thanked the small group for attending and reassured them that others are speaking their mind. They’re just choosing to do so online.

"I understand that right now, there's just so much on everyone's plate," said Surles-Law when talking about the small turnout Thursday night. "The survey is getting a great response. We have over a thousand responses, to my understanding is good for survey with what we are doing."

Surles-Law said this slim turnout this is the reason the board voted to hold more than one meeting, so parents, teachers, and more can join when their schedule fit.

She said in addition to finding the next best school leader, these meetings also serve a purpose of healing following the shooting at Richneck Elementary School.

"As you noticed, we're doing them all in person and it's for that reason...to unite the community, have them come out for something positive and pro-active, so we collectively move our division forward," Surles-Law said.

Right now, Surles-Law said the board does not have any candidates for the position. 

That online survey closes on April 23. 

According to the timeline on the division’s website, they’re hoping to name the new superintendent by the beginning of the next school year.

If you're interested in sharing your thoughts in person, you have three more opportunities:

  • April 17, 2023 (6:00 p.m.)
    Public Hearing at Woodside High School

  • April 20, 2023 (5:30 p.m.)
    NNPS Staff Public Hearing at Warwick High School

  • April 22, 2023 (10 a.m.)
    Public Hearing at Heritage High School

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