Former Anniston principal is interviewed for superintendent's post
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Jan 10, 2014 | 4671 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Darren Douthitt speaks to members of the Anniston City Board of Education during an interview on Thursday. (Photo by Patrick McCreless/The Anniston Star)
Darren Douthitt speaks to members of the Anniston City Board of Education during an interview on Thursday. (Photo by Patrick McCreless/The Anniston Star)
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Darren Douthitt doesn't want to just come home.

He wants a challenge.

The Anniston Board of Education interviewed the former Anniston High School principal Thursday for the job of superintendent.

"People asked me why I would want to come back to Anniston ... I said, ‘Why not?’," Douthitt said.

Douthitt said he has been an educator his entire life and wants to help school systems with problems such as those found in Anniston, where decreased enrollment has been a fact of life for years.

"It's the challenge ... it's easy to go into a good system and look like a shining star," Douthitt said. "But someone who goes into a tough area to triumph, that's who I am."

The board plans to hire one of four candidates as superintendent in February to replace Superintendent Joan Frazier, who will retire at the end of the school year. The board interviewed one candidate Tuesday and will interview the remaining two next week.

The board asked Douthitt a variety of questions, from how he would improve reading and dropout rates to how he would interact with staff and the board. The board also had Douthitt briefly discuss how he would handle school consolidation, a move the board is considering due to low student enrollment.

Douthitt, 48, is an Ohatchee native and is superintendent of the Butler County school system. He previously served as an assistant superintendent for the Lee County school system between 2008 and 2010. He served as principal of Anniston High between 2001 and 2003. Douthitt has a master’s degree and educational specialist degree in education along with a bachelor’s degree in English from Jacksonville State University.

Board member Bill Robison asked Douthitt how he would inspire students to stay in school and be interested in learning.

"I'll engage any student, any parent, at any time," Douthitt said.

Douthitt said an educator has to talk with troubled students individually and speak to them on their level. Douthitt said he routinely talks to students about his own hardships growing up poor and how he overcame them.

"Kids need to know these kinds of things," Douthitt said.

Board member William Hutchings asked Douthitt what he could do to improve reading scores in Anniston’s schools. Douthitt said he would do what he has done in other school systems, such as increase training for teachers so they can teach reading more effectively.

"Pay your high-level teachers in reading to train the younger ones," Douthitt said.

He added that school libraries were particularly important, since many poor children have no other access to books.

"You can't let libraries be a gathering place for food and drink," Douthitt said. "It has to be a place where reading is improved ... and that's something you have to constantly inspect."

Board member Mary Klinefelter asked Douthitt what kind of authority he would give principals if hired as superintendent.

"I believe in true autonomy and that begins with trust and respect," Douthitt said. "And I communicate with my administrators often and when a principal cannot get it done, it's my job to recommend to the board that person be removed."

Klinefelter also wanted to know how much day-to-day information about the school system Douthitt would provide to the board if hired.

"Overkill is necessary when communicating with the board," Douthitt said.

Hutchings also asked Douthitt what his thoughts were about using Cobb Elementary if it were to close due to school consolidation. Douthitt said Cobb could be repurposed as a professional training center for local teachers or even as a site where residents could get their GEDs.

"Anytime you're dealing with school closings, you've got to remember that those properties belong to the community," Douthitt said.

Board President Donna Ross asked Douthitt what the school system would look like in seven years under his leadership. Douthitt said the system's pre-kindergarten program would be expanded. The number of advanced placement courses available to students would be expanded as well, he said.

"With 10 to 12 classes of AP, there is no reason kids should not be prepared for college," Douthitt said.

Douthitt said he would also expand career technology programs in the system and vigorously seek out the funding necessary to pay for them and any other initiatives he believes are necessary to improve education.

"It's all about leadership," he said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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