LaShakia Moore this morning was fully in control of a Flagler County School Board that has often been unmoored and adrift for much of the past year as she parried questions and asserted how she would handle her first hundred days as superintendent, if the board were to appoint her into that role this evening.
Addressing the board for over 90 minutes in a special workshop interview this morning, Moore did not come to the table with any intentions of flattering the board or blowing blarney past its ears, or even taking its lead from the board, so much as to tell its members where she sees issues, how she would lead, and what sort of person she is.
Based on what she heard back from board members–much of it compliments rather than questions–this evening’s vote may be anticlimactic: there seems to be little doubt that come 5:15 p.m., Moore will be voted the new, permanent superintendent. Anything different would be a shocking surprise, though from a board that has specialized in shocking surprises.
“This is very reminiscent when Bill Delbrugge came on board with that energy level,” said Board member Colleen Conklin, who has been on the board since 2000 and voted in Delbrugge in 2005, starting the district’s best five-year stretch in memory. “I haven’t seen that specific piece in a really long time.”
There was no undue deference on Moore’s part, no servility. Moore spoke with the confidence of someone in the driver’s seat, someone who so far has managed to project remarkable self-confidence and ease without yet projecting arrogance. Of course she has the inside track: she is the only candidate, and the district had suspended its search for a new superintendent even before a major crisis (the segregated assembly at Bunnell Elementary) and a hurricane briefly threatened the district. But she handled both with skills that suggest her self-confidence isn’t a facade. Her interview today reinforced that sense.
“The landscape of education is changing drastically,” she told the board. “If we as an organization, if our plan is to continue to educate the way we have for centuries before, we will work ourselves out of a job.” That’s the big picture.
She was no less direct about the school board and the district: “It’s almost like we’ve isolated ourselves from the community,” she said toward the beginning of her two-hour interview in a special workshop with the board this morning. “It appears that the community is growing and moving forward around us.”
As for finances: “It cannot be just senior cabinet and the board that knows where we are financially. It has to be all of our stakeholders, so that when we begin to have conversations around things financially, they know where we are, they know what to expect.”
She also made clear that she would “re-set the table” in terms of board-superintendent relations, making roles clear to a board that has tended to muck up those roles with increasing micromanagement beyond policy-making: “To do that, we have to go back to the foundation,” she said. “And that foundation comes from the statute that outlines what our roles are as a board, and what my role would be as superintendent.”
It was that sort of approach from Moore: Assertive, agenda-setting, willing to define for the board what the essential operational priorities are rather than wait to be given a direction. Board members could only sit back and for once, enjoy.
Much of Moore’s success has to do with her voice–an air of leadership she naturally projects, but that depends on her freedom to be who she thinks she must be. Conklin was worried about whether that would survive her elevation to superintendent. Moore reassured her. “When it comes to my authentic voice, I have to lead the way that I know to lead,” Moore said. “I don’t know if this is safe to say, but some of it has to come from within me and who I am and who I’m called to be in the end–the assignment that I’m in right now in life, I have to lead that way.”
Every board member had met with Moore for one-on-one interviews before today, which explains why the questions were limited. Some of the interview was heavy with the jargon of internal methods, standards, administrative dynamics (for example: “We have to ensure that as we’re providing professional learning to educators, we’re also providing professional learning to our administrators as well so they can be great instructional leader,” and so on). But most of it was a chance for Moore to define her coming tenure, if she were handed the reins.
Moore wants to look into ways to change the delivery of education to keep up with those “drastic” changes in education, for instance. She intends to continue making outreach–in schools, in the community–a priority. She wants to “reclaim our relevance” in the community, “and we have to bring that back” by working collaboratively with leaders across the board. Her priority, however, remains students.
“When I’m on campus is when I’m my best self. When I’m with students, I am an educator, through and through,” Moore said. “If you walk the halls with me, I don’t know all 13,000 students, but I know quite a few of them, and that’s important to me. I want to ensure that when I go to schools that not only our administrators and our staff know who I am but our students know who I am and our students have a voice and they know that they can come and they can have a conversation with me.”
She later specified: “It’s important to me that our students know who I am not because I’m the superintendent, but because I am someone that is responsible for their learning.” She noted how she once got an email from a student who wanted to schedule time with her to discuss an issue. She did.
She spoke of engagement with the community as if through the concentric circles around schools. Regarding parents, More said the district has the confidence to provide clear and plentiful information, as well as having the confidence to tell its own positive stories.
She was asked: Are administrators responding in a timely manner, so the story isn’t necessarily driven by social media reactions? “My first response is never frustration. My first response is always pushing, ask our team, have we provided them the information?” she said.
She believes in choice, but “public education will be the greatest educator of students,” which compels the board to identify the board’s stakeholders to ensure that the board is working “in collaboration with the surrounding community as a whole. That is something that is very important to me. It is something that I would definitely spend some of my initial time, as I’ve already been doing, it’s really getting out and extending ourselves back into the community and to our community to let them know that we care about their voice, we care about what it is that they want to see in our schools and our school district, and allowing them to have those opportunities.”
Whether residents have children in the school system or not, whether the median age in the county is higher or lower, Moore sought to dispel the notion that only parents with children have a stake in the district. “We have to continue to engage every range of our community so they understand what they’re doing and what is the impact that we as a school district have on the environment they live in,” she said.
She’s had conversations with anyone who had concerns about “our former leadership,” she said, to find out what those entities were “missing.” She met with almost all county leaders, managers, law enforcement, to say: “we’re here, if there’s something that we can be a part of, let me tell you something about Flagler board and where we are.” She said she’s done likewise with parents who send her an email.
Not that she couldn’t occasionally fall prey to cotton-candy but meaningless generalities. When Conklin asked her what her intentions are in the needed diversification of education choices ahead, Moore’s answer was quite vague, referring to “workforce,” bringing classrooms outside of the traditional walls of traditional campuses so students have “different options,” and circling back to the same hazy words told a different way: “It’s all about ensuring that we are keeping up with the changing landscape and education but we are ultimately meeting a need for our students and our community.”
But for the most part it wasn’t about that sort of specifics or knowing the right jargon, but describing what her leadership style would be, what drives her education priorities, and, more implicitly, whether she would be a good fit with the board. In the tree months that she’s been interim superintendent, she’s interviewed the board as much as the board has interviewed her, and by now it appears clear that the fit is as good as it’s been. So when this morning’s interview was drawing to a close, the board members only had more compliments for her.
Christy Chong had spoken of seeing Moore in action in schools, witnessing her listening skills firsthand. “She’s had the ultimate interview,” she said. “I don’t think another person could have come in here and handle things the way they’ve been handled.”
Sally Hunt was effusive. “What I appreciate in superintendent Moore, one, she’s a lifelong learner, which is everything. So you hear she’s reading, she’s keeping up on on things, she also time and time again I hear from her, she’s not okay with average,” Hunt said. “She is a great person for us to have, to be able to meet us where we are and take us to the next level.” Hunt described her hour-long one-on-one interview with Moore as “intense.” (“I don’t I don’t want to call it an easy conversation,” Hunt said, though that wasn’t as surprising as the fact that, finally, Hunt, a chronic no-show at key moments, did meet with the superintendent. Hunt had also started this morning’s workshop by asserting that she wanted a conversation, not an interview, because interviews, she said, are “icky.”) Later in the workshop, Hunt added of Moore: “She just continues to wow me,” noting that she (Hunt) has “worked with some of the most incredible leaders literally in the world in my life.”
“We all would agree, this is the most important decision we would make for this organization as a collective board,” Board member Will Furry said. “And tonight we’ll make a decision on what this will look like moving forward.” Notably, he did not tip his hand.
There’s never been any doubt where Conklin and Cheryl Massaro, who chairs the board, have stood regarding Moore.