In past five years, Lisa Herring thinks the Charleston County School District has made “tremendous progress,” but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
A candidate for superintendent of CCSD, Herring is second of three finalists to formally interview this week for the position and meet with the community. The school board is making each candidate available for public interviews: Gerrita Postlewait was interviewed on Monday and Terri L. Breeden will be interviewed on Wednesday. The Post and Courier is interviewing each candidate as they become available.
Herring, who is originally from Macon, Ga., began her teaching career in 1994 at the private Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh. She earned a Master of Education in school counseling from the University of South Carolina in 1999 and a doctorate in education from Georgia Southern University in 2007.
Herring served as assistant director and director of student support services in two Georgia school districts before coming to Charleston in 2009 as the executive director for student support services. Herring was promoted in 2011 to associate superintendent of academic and instructional support before being named chief academic officer in 2013.
Now the deputy superintendent for academics, Herring said she wants to use her insider knowledge to solve CCSD’s greatest challenges.
“When you have that information inside of you, you can’t sit and watch a race and not get in it,” she said.
Herring discussed her strengths as a current CCSD leader and the limits of school choice and high stakes testing. (Answers have been edited for length.)
Q: You’ve worked for CCSD for the past several years in various leadership roles. What experience and skills do you feel you bring to the table that the public may not be aware of?
A: I’ve very humbly and openly taken on the opportunity to serve in background as a leader that’s supported the superintendent, as a leader that’s supported other leaders within the district and across schools. But some of the strengths I think I’ve been able to bring to that is my ability to bring poise and grace during difficult times and we’ve seen our share of them....It is something that I consider a gift, that I can navigate through challenging times and be poised to support those who need it, but also be courageous about the things we still have to address.
Q: The previous superintendent had a somewhat contentious relationship with the members of the school board. What would you do to cultivate a cooperative relationship with the school board?
A: The relationship between the superintendent and the board of trustees is perhaps the most crucial. It is in many ways a marriage, and if it’s a marriage, it means there must be significant trust. It means there must be a lot of communication.
I have had a chance to work with our board members. I do not have negative relationships with them, but we don’t always have to agree with everything. And it will always be out of respect and dignity that we will debate, but it will also always be about our children.
Q: Many of CCSD’s schools are heavily segregated by racial and socio-economic lines. What would you do to improve diversity across the district?
A: It has been both our blessing and our burden that we offer choice. Choice is a powerful tool for parents. It’s what we want when we look at education. Yet at the same time, as we’ve been very proud of the fact that we offer choice, we see that there has been a creation of different representations of races in schools and we have to be candid about that. But what that also challenges us to do is to take a deeper look at what we offer as it relates to rigor, as it relates to opportunities for extracurricular activities and things of that sort.
There is an opportunity to provide the same type of rigor, that same type of programming across any demographic and that every family, any family will feel that wherever they go to school, their child is getting a quality education.
Q: In recent years, CCSD has expanded school choice by opening more magnet, Montessori, charter and other nontraditional schools. What’s your position on school choice?
A: Choice has its place in our organization because choice is representative of the best practices in education and teaching and learning. It yields to how we’re all different learners with different learning styles and it’s not a one size fits all. But as we look at the other issue around how our schools have evolved with our racial demographics, etc., we want to be just as intentional to offer the same quality programs and best practice in instruction in any and every school.
Q: Here and across the country, more parents are opting their children out of high stakes tests. What role do you think standardized testing should have in the classroom?
A: The truth about assessment is that it has its place ... Assessments allow us formatively over time and then at the conclusion of a school year to know how well Lisa is or is not performing, so that we can help elevate or accelerate or promote her. So testing has its place, but it should not be the only element that we use to determine success. And I’ll tell you why. The work force is telling us that they applaud 4.0, 4.5, and in some cases even higher, but they’re also looking for the child who can sit, engage in conversation, and have curiosity grit, creativity and collaboration skills. We’ve got to balance that.
Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.