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New superintendent wants to be solution, not problem

With hopes to be part of the solution and not part of the problem and eager to boost morale within the Halifax County Public School System, incoming Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon will take office July 2.

Balancing between her current job as director of professional development/school business partnerships at Lynchburg City Schools and slowly transitioning into her Halifax County school duties has proven to be no easy task as Herndon schedules meetings as time sees fit.

“I want to be able to make informed decisions,” said Herndon.

After leaving a meeting Wednesday morning with several individuals discussing the advanced placement and dual enrollment programs, the new superintendent said she has already met with the Halifax County High School administration and soon will be meeting with the instructional staff at the central office.

“I’m interested in there being a smorgasbord of opportunities for students. I think for some students dual enrollment is the best opportunity and for other students AP is the best opportunity, and we may even want to investigate again governor’s school,” said Herndon.

When asked what her overall vision for the school system is, Herndon responded, “Providing the very best education for all students.” 

Herndon credits herself with never forgetting what it’s like to be a teacher. She often says the best teachers never forget what it’s like to be a student. The best administrators are the administrators who have never forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher, and she has never forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher.

Although she still has a little more than three weeks before she takes office, Herndon is making herself seen by the public. 

The incoming superintendent attended the Halifax County High School graduation last Saturday and asked permission to sit with the faculty, which gave Herndon the opportunity to meet some of the teachers and get to know them. 

She also attended the Halifax County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday evening.

Aware the morale among teachers and other school employees is at an all time low with no one receiving a raise in over five years, Herndon said, “It’s hard to think about. I’ll be looking at ways to change that … five years, that is a very long time.

“I would love to see morale improve … I want to be part of the solution not part of the problem,” she added.

Before she was introduced to the public as the new superintendent, Herndon said she had already read both the 487-page efficiency review and the 198-page curriculum audit. 

However, she declined to comment on recommendations she may make saying she wishes to get into office before going into details.

Herndon expects to discuss several of the recommendations made by the studies with the school board, specifically citing the closing of two schools and block scheduling. 

Working together with the board, she hopes to weigh the pros and cons of block scheduling for the students. In addition, Herndon said she is aware the board will need to consider the capital improvement plan for athletic infrastructure, technology improvements, a new central office structure, all of which are being strongly considered along with a few transportation department options.  

“Although there have been some discussions, it’s too soon for me to answer all those questions. I don’t want to give an uninformed decision,” said Herndon when asked for specific suggestions.

She feels the central office restructuring is a priority to strongly be considered, because everyone should be matched well with their job and should be getting the job done, Herndon said. 

She also feels very strongly about technology and getting the transportation department back on schedule for purchasing new buses and ensuring the money is there. 

However, she said she has not had the opportunity to meet with the board to have any discussions about the closing of the two elementary schools as recommended in the efficiency study and feels it is something that will occur over time with input from the community.

“We’ll review the recommendations and look at the data and how efficient they are,” she added.

Herndon, who describes herself as a “data driven person,” always asks to see the data before making comments. 

“Anything I do I will try to look at the data,” said Herndon.

She has been receiving feedback from several different groups, talking with employees and asking their strengths and challenges.

“I believe professional development is the lifeblood of our profession,” said Herndon.

Promising to be a visible leader, Herndon doesn’t want to be a behind the scenes decision maker. 

“I’m excited about getting into the schools and hearing from the students and teachers. I’ve already heard so many great things about Halifax County, and I want to enhance those great things,” said Herndon.

Her hopes are to bring organization, accountability and an open line of communication to the school system. 

Herndon is looking forward to her first day and hopes to have the support of teachers and parents and work together as a team for each individual child. 

“Together we can make quite a team,” she said.

Herndon will will serve a three contract that begins July 2 and continues through June 30, 2015.