New Superintendent Hopes to Make Schools a Model
Aaron Spence says he plans to continue the "journey to greatness" as the next superintendent of the Moore County public schools.
During a special meeting Tuesday, the Moore County Board of Education unanimously voted to hire Spence to replace retiring Superintendent Susan Purser.
Spence is currently the chief high school officer for the Houston Independent School District (HISD). His first day on the job in Moore County is Feb. 6. His salary, with benefits, will be $165,000.
As he walked into the central office board room, Spence was greeted with a standing ovation. He smiled and waved before walking around the room and shaking hands with each board member.
"I'm excited about the good work that's taking place here," he said to the group. "And I'm excited about continuing that work. So one of my commitments to you tonight is that we will continue this journey to greatness."
Spence added that he hopes to make Moore County a model system that others will look to as a place "where they get schooling right."
"They're going to look to Moore County, and they're going to figure out how we do it," he said.
A native of Virginia, Spence, 40, grew up in Virginia Beach and spent most of his career in the Richmond area.
He earned a bachelor's degree in French studies, a master's degree in secondary education and a doctorate in educational administration and supervision from the University of Virginia, where he has also served as an adjunct professor.
He began his career in Stafford County, Va., as a high school French and photojournalism teacher and went on to serve as an assistant principal and principal in Henrico County before becoming the chief academic officer and director of curriculum and instruction for Chesterfield County public schools in Virginia.
Spence has spent the last two years in his current position in Houston.
He said the last month has been exciting for him and his wife, Krista, as they have prepared for life changes. Besides the new job, they expect their sixth child, a boy, next month.
"It's been wild," he said. "We sort of joke in our house that we don't do anything halfway. This is a big month for us - a new job, a new baby, a new home, presumably - and we're excited."
Spence said his family chose to delay their move until February so that they can welcome their new addition.
"After that, we're looking forward to moving to North Carolina," he said.
Before he even applied for the job, Spence and his wife came to Moore County just to look around. They came back for another visit after the board called Spence for his second interview.
Board Chairwoman Kathy Farren said Tuesday that Spence's initiative to visit the area showed commitment.
"I just think that speaks already to his dedication to us, what he is already willing to learn about us and how much they want to be in our community," she said.
For Spence, curiosity brought him to the area.
"We came down here and really just spent some time driving around the county and stopping at different places talking to people, asking what they thought of the schools, hearing about it," he said. "I did a lot of research."
He said the answers were all "incredibly positive."
"People were saying that parents are incredibly supportive," Spence said. "There are great teachers, great principals. There are no bad schools and great positive feedback about the Board of Education and its commitment to this idea that every child can be successful, this idea of 'Growing to Greatness.'"
He added that "Growing to Greatness," the school system's accountability model that has been in place over the last two years, was a big reason why he pursued the position.
Spence described himself as a "child-centered administrator," and he believes the plan "marries well" with his philosophy.
"I got very excited," he said. "I read the plan at length and in-depth and asked a lot of questions about the plan and the work that's happening behind it. When you do that, you get a really good sense that this is a district that knows what it takes to focus on kids and we're really looking at how we get that done. For me, it was an easy decision."
In his first month on the job, Spence expects to spend a lot of time out in the community asking a lot of questions.
"For me, it's going to be a lot about learning and listening," he said. "We're going to build on the work we're doing. We're going to keep focusing on what we're doing really well, and we're also then going to say, 'What are other priorities that we need to be looking at?'"
Spence must also be ready to jump into the budget process for the 2012-2013 school year, but he said he has confidence in Mike Griffin, the chief finance officer, who will serve as interim superintendent. Griffin has already begun working on budget recommendations with Purser for the Board of Education.
He added that he intends to spend time assessing the school system's needs in spite of less funding coming from the state.
"I definitely will be spending a lot of time right after we get here understanding what does that mean," he said. "Are the recommendations giving us the room to continue to innovate, to continue to teach all the kids? And then, where do we need to advocate if we feel like the budget isn't going to give us the opportunity do that?"
As they prepare for the move, Spence and his wife are still determining where they will live in Moore County. He said the final decision is up to Krista, since he is moving the family 1,500 miles across the country. His children have their own stipulations.
"My kids want a pool," he said, laughing. "We have a pool at the house in Houston, and we promised them that though we might not have a pool with the house, we'll try to find a place that has a pool close by. They're very excited about coming back to the East Coast. They will be closer to all their grandparents."
Before the meeting ended, Purser commended Spence's ability to take the reins and lead.
"He is a man of quality," she said. "He's a man of commitment. He's a man who believes in the work that serves children, and I think he's going to be an outstanding match for Moore County schools.
"I congratulate you (she said to Spence). This is the best job."
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
More like this story