Clarke County School District Superintendent Demond Means visited Clarke Central High School on Sept. 5. Before coming to the CCSD, Means was the Mequon-Thiensville School District Superintendent but felt CCSD would be a great step for him as a professional and for his family. “I think the diversity of not only people but challenges and opportunities makes this a very unique place,” Means said. “It’s also a place I felt confident my wife and I could raise our daughter and be happy.” Photo by Zoe Peterson
Clarke County School District Superintendent Dr. Demond Means makes Athens his new home upon his hiring as CCSD superintendent in June. Means spoke candidly to Editor-in-Chief Lucia Bermudez about his history in and passion for education as well as his aspirations as superintendent.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I grew up in the city of Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin. I have one sister and went to public schools, the city public schools in Milwaukee.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES, INTERESTS, ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
I really enjoy watching college athletics as much as possible. It’s a break. I like comedies. I haven’t found a really good comedy that I can dig into, but I like comedies like “30 Rock.” I loved “Parks and Rec.” I lived for “The Office.” I like that kind of stuff. I think Will Ferrell is the greatest American thespian of the last 50 years. Who cares about (Robert) Deniro and (Al) Pacino and people like that? I think it’s about Will Ferrell. I like comedies a lot, just to kind of go away and not think about the stuff of the world.
A FOUNDATION IN EDUCATION
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE AS A KID GROWING UP, AND SPECIFICALLY, WHAT WERE YOU LIKE AS A STUDENT IN SCHOOL?
I was the student who always asked the question(s) “Why?” and “Who said?” and “Who made that rule?” and “Why do we have to do it because someone said it that way?” I had teachers who allowed me to push the envelope that way and to press those questions. In their honor, I try to ask those questions professionally, even now. I get a little nervous when people say, ‘“Well, we’ve always done it that way.” That makes me nervous. Anyone that says that, I have to do a double take on them, because if you’re not open to new experiences and ideas, even just listening to them, I question it. I question your perspective.
WHAT DREW YOU INTO A CAREER IN EDUCATION?
My interest in social studies led me to wanting to be a social studies teacher, but more importantly, I understand that from a policy standpoint, an administrator is really critical to making a school work. So, my interest in government and social studies is actually a main driver to why I’m in the position I am today. What degrees did you attain post high school? I went to a place called Concordia University. My major was secondary education in social studies. I went there because I grew up in a synod called The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and they impressed upon me that they wanted me to attend the university that they created as a synod. So, I went to that university and had a really good experience there. It was a smaller university and I think for that time in my life, that actually worked out well for me. I got my masters degree in educational leadership and also my doctorate in educational leadership from a small Catholic school in Milwaukee by the name of Cardinal Stritch University.
WHAT VARIOUS JOBS HAVE YOU HAD IN THE FIELD OF EDUCATION?
I was a social studies teacher for three years (at Homestead High School in the Mequon-Thiensville School District) and I really enjoyed that. I also coached football and basketball and track while I was a teacher. I was then an assistant principal for two years (at Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin). Then the last year I was the associate principal, for all intents and purposes I was the principal of (Maple Dale School in Fox Point, Wisconsin). It’s a one-school district. I had all the principal responsibilities. I was then a director of human resources for three years (in the Wauwatosa School District). I was also an interim superintendent in Wauwatosa for a year. Then I (returned to Mequon-Thiensville School District) as an assistant superintendent in charge of educational services for three years. The past nine years, I was a superintendent.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A SUPERINTENDENT?
I always knew I wanted to be a superintendent from when I took Education 101. You can change the lives of children if the system is constructed in the right way that is based on equity and based on providing assets to all students.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN EDUCATION?
We accomplished a lot of good things in Mequon-Thiensville. We received a lot of accolades for our performance as a school system, but more importantly, some of the work I did at the state level as being a chair for the Promoting Excellence for All task force is something I’m proud of as well.
COMING TO THE CLARKE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO CCSD AND WHY DID THIS COUNTY APPEAL TO YOU?
I think the diversity of not only people, but challenges and opportunities, makes this a very unique place. Its also a place I felt confident my wife and I could raise our daughter and be happy. How do you think the transition to a new superintendent affects the students, staff and the community in general?
There’s new stuff that comes when you have a new superintendent, and so it does impact students and teachers and parents. As we unfold some of these things, there will be opportunity for people to weigh in and give their feedback, but inherently, there will be change that comes. There’s change when you have a new principal. There’s change when you have a new anything. Inherently, there is some element of it that impacts the process.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL GOALS AS CCSD SUPERINTENDENT AND ALSO FOR YOUR LIFE HERE IN ATHENS?
I just want to make sure that my family transitions into the community effectively and that we make this our new home. (I also hope) we’ll see greater student achievement. That’s part of building the process and building the strategies. I think it’s premature to talk about what the strategies are going to be, but when you ask what the end goal would be, what the vision is in the next three to five years, it’s (to) increase student achievement.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO DO FOR CCSD STUDENTS AND FAMILIES?
There’s a value proposition that every family deserves to receive when they send their child to school, regardless of whether they send them to one side of town or another side of town. We have an obligation as a school system to ensure that that’s happening for every student. That’s why being systemic is important. It shouldn’t matter if your child goes to Barrow Elementary School or goes to Gaines (Elementary School). They should have the same experience and the same access to educational opportunities. That’s why systems are really critical because if you don’t have a system in place, then there’s a high potential that those experiences will be different. If you have those different experiences that’s not fair.”