From the moment he became superintendent of Pocahontas County Schools, Terrence Beam has tried to be as transparent as possible with school employees and members of the community.
As part of that transparency, Beam developed a survey which contains several questions for employees and it gives them a chance to anonymously voice their opinions.
In this year’s survey, Beam said he received 44 responses, which is a quarter of the schools’ employees. Along with providing answers to the six questions, employees were given an opportunity to speak freely about their concerns with the school system.
“In order to know what people are thinking, you’ve got to give them a chance to respond, and if they do it in an anonymous way, they feel more comfortable,” he said. “One of the criticisms we always have is the lack of communication, so in giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns without fear of repercussion, I think that’s a way to build communication.”
In reviewing the responses, Beam said he tried to answer questions and clarify misinformation in order to make sure all employees are on the same page.
“I took the six questions that I sent out, I wrote the questions down and I listed responses that people gave me,” he said. “I responded to their comments to give my explanation.”
One of the most often mentioned issue was about employees who receive supplements on top of their salaries.
Beam explained that there are several reasons for supplements and said it would be difficult to discontinue supplements.
“There’s been this wild rumor out there that secretaries get a big supplement,” he said. “I did a little bit of investigating and found that when Eilene [Irvine], Janice [Miller] and Fran [Rider] were here, they got a $2,000 supplement [from a former superintendent]. I did not know that. We don’t give supplements to our secretaries. They did then, but none of ours get them and never have.
“Another one is that Ron Hall keeps getting this same supplement that he got down at Hillsboro, every year,” Beam continued. “No. It was a one-year thing. We saved ourselves about $45,000 by having him cover that duty rather than hiring somebody extra to do it. We’re trying to be fiscally responsible.”
In addition to his responsibilities as Director of Attendance, Maintenance and School Safety, and Homeless Liaison, Hall also served as substitute principal at Hillsboro Elementary School the year he was paid a supplement. When a new principal was hired, the supplement was taken away.
Beam said that when employees are offered supplements, it is usually a way to save the board money by giving a current employee more responsibilities rather than hiring a new, full-time employee.
“Mr. [C.C.] Lester was superintendent when Ruth [Bland] came on because Alice [Irvine] left in the middle of the year,” Beam said. “He went to her and he said, ‘you’re going to take transportation and we’ll give you a supplement.’ They put it on the board agenda and they paid her $4,000 to be transportation director.”
Beam said if Lester had decided to hire a new transportation director, it would have cost the board of education an estimated $50-to-$60,000 a year. Instead, he gave the position to Bland and paid her a supplement of $4,000 a year.
“That’s the reason,” he said. “You don’t do it to pad somebody’s pocket. You do it so you don’t have to pay more to hire a full-time employee.”
Other opinions shared included moving the board office to a new location and ideas for how individuals would change things if they were the superintendent.
“The first question was, ‘if you were superintendent, what’s the first change you would make?’” Beam said. “That was really interesting. Some say close the board office, fire everybody here and some, they told me that the first thing they would do if they were me is to take a pay cut to show leadership. I didn’t respond to that because if you do, it’s defensive, but I would say, ‘are you willing to take a cut?’ Next year, if our budget is tight again, let’s say I have to reduce everybody from 261 days to 240, then I will – I’ll take a pay cut, too.”
One issue that has been on the minds of everyone since the failure of the proposed school levy is the reconfiguration and possible consolidation of schools. Employ- ees voiced their opinions in several ways concerning how they would like to see the schools configured.
“Three things really came out of it,” Beam said. “One was two preK-12s. One was two preK-8s and a 9-12 – which I personally like better – and the other one was, no matter what you do, close Hillsboro. There were a lot of those, but you’ve got to understand, a lot of these surveys came from up north and from here in town and so it doesn’t effect them. I don’t think I got any of those [saying to close HES] from Hillsboro.”
Concerning the board office, Beam said there were several employees who stated there are too many secretaries at the board office. At this time, there are five secretaries and Beam said, if the board did decide to get cut a secretary position at the office, it would in turn displace a secretary at one of the schools.
In service personnel management, Beam explained that a secretary cannot just be fired. If a secretary position at the board office is reduced, the least senior secretary of the five at the office would take the position of the least senior secretary in the school system.
“It doesn’t matter if you are in the central office or in a school,” he said. “It’s still the same. They think I can just walk down the hall and say ‘Stephanie or Jennifer, we’re getting rid of you because you’re the least senior person in our building.’ But that person doesn’t lose their job. They go down and they bump someone else out of a job.”
Along with suggestions for improvement, Beam said there were some surveys that had harsh criticisms and negative comments about the board office and him, personally.
Instead of avoiding the comments, Beam faced them and owned up to any mistakes he may have made.
“I didn’t dodge any bullets,” he said. “For instance, there was one person who wrote I was terribly rude and unprofessional in dealing with the employees. I wrote in my response there were two instances this year where I was unprofessional. One was with a professional and one was with a service employee.
“I was wrong on both occasions, and I apologized to both those people for my actions,” he continued. “I’m pretty good at taking criticism. It just seems like there are certain times or certain things – when they question my integrity on something, I get really defensive.”
After reviewing the surveys and taking the information to heart, Beam said he is taking steps next year to heighten communication between the board office and employees.
“Starting next year, I’m going to have an advisory council made up of one professional and one service person from each school that is not the principal and is not the faculty senate president,” he said. “That gives me two more people at each school that I will personally be able to sit down and talk to. Then they can bring me anything they want to talk about.”
Beam will also continue to have monthly principal meetings and meetings with the faculty senate presidents from each school.
He also plans to share all job postings with employees through the School Messenger system in order to ensure all employees know what postings are available.
On top of all of that, he will continue to do annual surveys.
“I’m going to do another one next year,” he said. “As long as I sit behind this desk, I’m going to do that.”