Candidate: Leadership means empowering others

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of five interviews with the finalists for the Clovis Municipal School Superintendent position:

Andy Sweet is a former Clovis High School principal and current Clovis High math teacher.

Q: What qualifies you for the superintendent position?

A: Nearly 20 years in education, and serving very successfully in a variety of capacities, lends itself to undertaking the challenge of being superintendent. My experience as an educator includes several years of classroom teaching experience — at the elementary, junior high, high school and the post-secondary levels. My administrative background includes serving as a director of athletics, an interim-elementary principal, high school principal and assistant principal, and assistant superintendent of personnel and curriculum. The latter has provided me with opportunities to earn certification as an external facilitator (and) certification as a collective bargaining negotiator. Those experiences and opportunities provided me with a very well-rounded, comprehensive knowledge base from which I’m able to lead collaboratively.

Q: You seem to have a lot of support from teachers at the high school, where you were principal. How much do you think that will help you or hurt you in your bid for superintendent?

A: I’d hope the body of support out there — I mean, it’s flattering to know it’s there — runs deeper than just the teachers at the high school. I would hope that … there’s a sense of me in other levels of education and facilities in the district. I don’t think (that kind of support) would be beneficial in itself. I think that’s a tool that can be utilized and put to good use in a district. When people believe in an individual, the vision of that individual or what that individual brings to the table so strongly that they are willing to throw their support behind that person, they’ll produce amazing things. That’s a plus to have that kind of support.

Q: The outside candidates both have doctorates, and some believe they can provide a fresh outlook on this district. Are those qualifications important?

A: Any additional education that an individual achieves, I think that provides very substantive, substantial, personal and professional growth opportunities for that individual. It’s commendable. That said, I also think it’s not possible to place too high a premium on educational experiences that individuals (have) by virtue of their employment background. I am very appreciative of those courses, particularly for me, that focused on school law and finance. Even more than that, I’m appreciative of the experiences and the opportunities that I (could) bring to the table and utilize … in a very practical application as an administrator and classroom teacher. Effective leaders use those life experiences to empower others, to lead collaboratively, and in doing all that they improve the quality of the charge they’ve been given and hope it will leave a positive impact.

Q: When you resigned as CHS principal, you did not speak publicly about the reasons for your decision. Others, including your assistant principal, cited health concerns and stress-related issues as the reasons for your decision. Were ill health and stress factors in your stepping down? If so, what has changed now that would allow you to fill the higher-profile superintendent position?

A: People make those kinds of life transitions for various reasons. I think those reasons include a need to better meet family needs — maybe no more complex a reason than to follow very personal, deep and abiding convictions. Regardless of the reason, what may be more important to note is (how critical it is) for administrators of all levels to spend some time periodically returning to the classroom. It’s an opportunity that provides very valuable insight into the challenges that impact our teachers and our students. Ultimately it strengthens your leadership as an administrator. I can recall during my second year as principal at Clovis High School, I taught one period of mathematics for the entire year. It was difficult and challenging to serve as principal and teacher, but it was full of rewards and a greater understanding for me that ultimately led to my making better decisions administratively on behalf of the staff and kids.

Q: You seem hesitant to speak specifically about the reasons you stepped down. Why is that?

A: Again, I think those reasons are personal for the individual, for any given individual. It runs the course of a lot of reasons, and those reasons are different for different people.

Q: Is there a way to make budget cuts that won’t affect instruction?

A: (It wouldn’t be) a very realistic statement to say … that there will be no impact on direct instruction at all. The mistake that districts make many times is that they look immediately toward direct instruction to offset and eliminate budget shortfalls and deficits. I think that’s a huge travesty, to pursue overcoming a budget deficit by immediately looking at direct instruction. Administration has to consider all measures … for improving existing revenue projections, (by) looking at additional revenue that could be funneled into the district and thus offset a portion of the projected deficit. Even in our own district, examining areas outside of direct instruction, there’s probably a savings of — in my estimate — anywhere from $500,000 to $600,000 before you ever approach direct instruction. It’s going to have to happen, without question. What’s left to do you can handle via direct instruction, by offsetting teacher-pupil ratios a very small degree, and spreading that deficit across the entire district through attrition and other types of staff reductions.

Q: What is the single biggest challenge the Clovis district is facing?

A: Without question, one of the biggest things we are facing is the implementation of “No Child Left Behind” and the legislative mandates… requiring having qualified educators and attainment of adequate yearly progress by students. (You have to) realize at the very heart of the challenge is a simple concept: It’s just the emphasis upon better enabling and accounting for academic success in every kid we work with. For some that challenge is going to loom very large. But it’s one we accomplish best by simply placing a higher premium on people for leadership and solutions they can bring to this issue. You have to value people for what they bring to the organization. All areas have great worth and are vitally important if you are going to continually see your student attain (AYP standards).

Next: Tucumcari superintendent William Reents.

— Compiled by CNJ Staff Writer David Irvin