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BOE interviews Tony Ball

Tony Ball, director of operations, Scottsboro (Ala.) City Schools

Biography

29 years in education. Was in the Navy. Originally from Anniston/Oxford. Been in Scottsboro for 6 years. Assistant principal at BB Comer for one year and principal at Lincoln High School for five years. Has served as teacher and coach.

Why he wants to be in Demopolis

“I’m not a big town guy, I’ve always been around the water. It’s kind of a culmination. If you have an ambition, you want to be at the top of your game and being a superintendent is the top of your game. My daughter and two granddaughters live in Tuscaloosa…Getting closer to them was a big motivator. I have a great job. I would not leave for just anything.”

Developing mission

“In developing that mission and goals, we need to know what the vision is of the stakeholders, specifically the students. Building consensus is important. You’ve got to get buy in. If you can’t get buy-in (on the mission and/or goal), it’s just something on a piece of paper…”

Develop and implement student improvement plans

“The development is kind of easy because of state mandates… The implementation is a big problem. As you look at these, you see some good information in there, but they’re not monitored. You have to rely on administrators and teacher leaders to monitor that and then, benchmark it. There have got to be some benchmarks in there.”

On student development

“Counseling, I can’t think of anything more important than counseling. Students have to know there’s a place they can go to.”

“Good counselors are aware of the (scholarship) opportunities that are out there. I’ve actually seen students lose academic scholarships because of counselors not knowing how to lead (students) in that direction.”

On management style

“I’m not an autocratic guy. I try to build consensus. I’m a people person. I can’t say that I will get along with everybody, but you won’t be able to say I didn’t try. You have to make decisions every day. If you can get your subordinates to understand that they may mess up but you’re going to stand with them if they mess up, you can build effective relationships. It’s important to say, ‘it’s not so much what you did wrong’, but ‘this is what I would like to see.’”

On communication

“I’m not a letter writer. I like to see people in person. I probably send about 40 e-mails a day. You’ve got to call people and when they call you, you’ve got to call them back.”

On special needs students

“Parents who have children with an IEP, they want someone to understand. They want someone to listen to them.”

On curriculum changes

“If we keep doing the same thing the same way, we’re going to get the same results. If things are not the way we need them to be, we need to look at that. Students and administrators would have to be part of that stakeholder group of looking at it. Change for change sake is flawed. There’s no need to change something just because it’s out there. Research is key.”

On Superintendent’s role with BOE

“Superintendent’s role is to develop policy. They are the liaison of the board. You have to be on the same page.

On paying civic rent

“It would be foolish to think you can be a leader of the education community and not live here. You have to be a member of a civic organization. Being visible. Athletic events, you have to be visible at athletic events. There’s probably a small group of people who are anti-athletics, those groups are everywhere, but you’ve got to go to everything and let the parents see you’re concerned about their kids outside the classroom.”

On budget cuts if they became necessary

“Foundation cuts are a big part of (budget cuts) and unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of say in that. It’s all legislative. You have to ask for money. You won’t get it if you don’t ask for it.”

Ball noted asking local lawmakers for discretionary funding to meet needs ranging from $1000 items to $4 million, adding that he’s written grants.

“You’ve got to ask for money. That’s part of the job.”

On recruitment and hiring

“I would imagine that you kind of have a pool of applicants,” he said referencing Demopolis’ position to the University of West Alabama and the University of Alabama. “I’ve gone to job fairs and such, but I’m not sure how effective that is. I would want the principals to have some say (in hiring). If it was a high profile hire, like a coach or athletic director, I think the superintendent needs to be heavily involved there.”

On accomplishments in Scottsboro

“From the principal standpoint, we did an adopt-a-senior program.” Program was geared to help seniors who have not passed the graduation exam. Started with volunteers. “Teachers volunteered to adopt a senior and they were responsible for motivating and helping that senior until they passed the graduation exam. It was an amazing success.”

Ball noted that four-fifths of the students in the program passed the graduation exam.

On discipline

“All discipline needs to start at the lowest level. If we go in the very first time he does something and suspend him for three days, we don’t have a lot of consequences for further infraction. I’m not against corporal punishment, but I do not like to use it. I’m not sure it’s as effective as it used to be. I’m not against suspending kids from school. I’m not against expelling kids from school…but I would hope that would be minimal. I worry about expelling students sometimes. I won’t say I would never recommend it, but it would have to be something severe.”

On seeking contract extension or other opportunities

“The day I became interested in the Demopolis job, I went to my superintendent and told her. I would be very upfront about anything. The bigger issue is I’m not looking for another job. I’m not looking for a stepping-stone. This is where I want to be.”