New Superintendent Has Big Plans for the Future

Dr. Lewis' Entry Plan Focuses on Interaction with Students and Staff

Anthony Lewis was named the new superintendent in USD 497.

Submitted Photo

Anthony Lewis was named the new superintendent in USD 497.

By Freeman Spray, Webmaster

Hitting the ground running, Dr. Anthony Lewis began his first day as superintendent on July 2, 2018, with a good record to back him up.

Lewis’ first position was as a principal of an elementary school in Montgomery, Alabama, where he rescued the underperforming school from state takeover and eventually transformed it into the 18th ranked school in Alabama. This radical transformation was thanks to his quick action and new ideas for teaching.

“The first two weeks of school I told the teachers, you don’t have to teach anything,” Lewis said. “Don’t pull out a textbook, I want you to spend the first two weeks getting to know your students.”

This concept was shocking to many teachers at his school, but the results were positive. Teachers were able to form much stronger relationships with their students, which in turn led to greatly improved behavior.

“It’s hard for students to disrespect a teacher that they genuinely like,” Lewis said.

In addition to improving behavior, getting to know their students allowed teachers to teach lessons in a way that involved students to a greater extent. Lessons were better tailored to apply to a student’s life by reading about topics that interested them and experiences that they identified with.

“It all started with belief. Do we truly believe that all of our students can learn?” Lewis said “Yes we believe it, but now let me show you how all of our students are going to learn.”

Lewis’ excellent track record played a large role in his selection as the next superintendent. He was among the top eight candidates from around 40 applicants that were reviewed by an external hiring firm. After two interviews and a great deal of deliberation, the board of education made the decision to hire him.

“We felt like we have a lot of areas of growth; achievement gap and continuing to build our equity work,” board of education member GR Gordon-Ross said, “and he has demonstrated an ability to take a school and to grow that in a positive direction.”

Lewis has already begun working on his entry plan for the district, which involves spending as much time in schools as possible, talking to and interacting with students and staff.

“I don’t know that there’s been a day that has gone by that he has not visited at least one school,” Gordon-Ross said.

To further facilitate his interaction with the community, Lewis has several listening and learning tours planned, starting in November. His considerable amount of interaction with students and teachers will provide him with more opinions and perspectives on each problem he must face.

“I’m interested in hearing from students and parents and teachers in terms of innovation,” Lewis said. “Something different, to meet the needs of today’s learners.”

The board hired Dr. Lewis to provide an outside perspective. The previous superintendents all brought their own experiences to the table, but Dr. Lewis was brought in to begin moving forward from the place where they left off. This will also allow Dr. Stubblefield, the previous superintendent, to focus on the equity work that she was originally hired to do as deputy superintendent.

“We had gone a very long time looking inward, and we needed an outside perspective and an outside voice,” Gordon-Ross said.

One of the major factors in the decision to hire Lewis was his penchant for plans. His 100 day entry plan, beginning with his school tours, will lead to an evaluation of the district budget and instruction efficiency in schools. His findings, combined with his feedback from students and staff, will help him construct a five year plan with the board of education.

“Creating a preconceived plan is just a matter of coming to a district meeting and listening,” Lewis said.

Having a strategic plan will help streamline the changes to the district the board will be working on for the next five years by avoiding unnecessary complication, helping to trim the fat in the district budget and improve curriculum standards. By the end of his first 100 days, Lewis will be prepared to act with the students’ and staff’s best interests in mind, with his own understanding of budget and instructional problems firm in his mind.

“Dr. Lewis and the Board and the district as a whole has proven to be resilient and hardworking, and they are putting the kids first,” Gordon-Ross said. “Our goal is to do what’s best for kids.”