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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Community Needs to Get Behind New Superintendent

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
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On Tuesday night (June 7), the South Bend Community School Board took the final step in hiring Kenneth Spells as its new superintendent of schools with the approval of his contract. That action clears the way for Spells to join our community on July 1. I look forward to meeting him.

Spells takes over for Carole Schmidt, who is retiring after close to five years on the job. Schmidt has worked hard to advance the corporation in the midst of many challenges and leaves the corporation better than she found it.

Spells brings a strong background that includes experience as a teacher, coach, principal, superintendent and adjunct professor. He most recently served as the superintendent of the Alton School District in Alton, Ill.

Schmidt announced her retirement in December. The hiring of Spells caps a six-month process during which the school board hired a consultant to lead the process, sought public input on the necessary skills of a new superintendent, interviewed candidates, made an offer and approved the contact. And in just a few weeks, Spells will step into one of the most important CEO positions in the area.

Spells’ new responsibilities include the oversight of the corporation’s 39 schools, more than 1,100 employees and a budget that exceeds $230 million. More importantly, Spells’ focus will be on the success of the more than 18,000 students enrolled in the district.

As Spells readies for his move, it’s important the community also readies for his arrival. We should be ready to roll out the red carpet and welcome him and show our support to him and his administrative team as he prepares to lead the corporation at a really important time.

Success at the corporation is a team effort. Solid leadership is required, and strong partnerships are essential. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, staff, volunteers, the school board, business owners, community leaders, neighborhood advocates and others will all be part of the recipe for success.

Each has an important role to play and each has a vested interest in the success of the corporation. And each group should be ready to roll up its sleeves and do what they can to ensure Spells and our students succeed.

Declining enrollment, aging buildings, rising costs, shrinking revenues, the full implementation of property tax caps, increased competition and ever-changing education policy present great challenges. But Spells has answered the call and is prepared to guide the corporation through those choppy waters.

Some hard decisions lie ahead, and people won’t agree with every decision Spells makes along the way. That is inevitable. But how we react as a community will be key to our success moving forward. We can’t get sidetracked by second guessing from the sidelines; those who are critical must bring real suggestions and alternative solutions to the most complex of problems. We’ve hired Spells to be the CEO, and we must allow him to make CEO-like decisions.

So what else can we do? We need strong advocates. Be a champion for your community and for your school corporation. This isn’t the same corporation that it was five and 10 years ago. Though some of the challenges are greater, there are some great stories of success to build upon.

We are in a battle for talent with communities across the country. We must continue to grow our population to succeed long term. A strong school corporation is a critical tool to attracting that top talent and growing that population. The business community looks forward to welcoming Spells and joining him in his efforts to help our students be successful.

Jeff Rea is president and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at jrea@sjchamber.org.