Martin fills dual roles in Patrick division

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J. David Martin is pictured in his new office in Patrick County. Martin said he is poised to guide the school division through the next few months as his firm leads the charge to find a new superintendent. (Photo by Debbie Hall)

J. David Martin says the two hats he is wearing for the Patrick County School System are interchangeable.
On July 1, Martin became the acting superintendent of Patrick County Schools. He also is president of Real Synergy LLC, the company that is leading the search for the school system’s next superintendent.
Martin, who worked for 20 years as a superintendent in five school systems in Virginia and North Carolina, is emphatic that he is not seeking the Patrick position for himself.
“I am not looking for a job,” said Martin, who lives in Henry County and formerly was school superintendent there.
But he sees advantages to holding both positions simultaneously.
“I’ve always wanted to do this because there are so many informal conversations that people are going to have with me,” such as at football games and other activities, he said. Those conversations will provide insight on what Patrick County residents want in a new superintendent and in their schools, he said.
The previous superintendent, Dr. William “Bill” Sroufe, resigned effective June 30 to head the Colonial Heights School Board. Martin was hired by the Patrick County School Board and officially began working July 1, though he started moving some items into his Patrick office and meeting some of the staff last week.
To find a permanent successor, Martin first plans to interview a broad range of community residents for input. When he did a superintendent’s search in Amherst County, Martin said he did 75 such interviews in two days.
He plans to talk with students, teachers, economic developers, the press and others in the community, looking for trends. A survey also will be posted online so others can have input.
Martin said he then will meet with school board and, using a coding system, he will develop a profile of the superintendent that the community wants. The position then will be advertised. Applications will be taken for about a month.
Questions on the application and subsequent interviews with candidates will be developed based on the community’s input and profile, he said.
“As those (applications) are coming in, I’m going back to the profile to see what matches with the application,” Martin said. For instance, if the community wants the next superintendent to be a good communicator, he will create questions to determine if an applicant has that skill, he said.
Some school systems hold public hearings with the top candidates for a superintendent’s job, but Martin prefers face-to-face interviews. In public hearings, a candidate answers a question and then sits down, Martin said. But a face-to-face interview is more of a conversation that can be more revealing, he added.
“Nothing takes the place of a face-to-face interview,” Martin said, adding that he hopes to name a new superintendent in December.
The process “feels a little awkward’ because it will take place in the middle of the school year and “sometimes people are so involved in their school system that they may not apply” for a new position, he said. “But if they’re looking for a different leadership opportunity,” this is a chance to make a change, he added.
Martin also said he will try and ease the next superintendent’s transition into Patrick County.
“Obviously I want that person to be successful. I’ll do anything to help,” he said.
In his superintendent’s role, Martin is planning a large convocation program when teachers return in the fall for the new school year. He plans to invite members of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors — and he said Supervisor Lock Boyce already has agreed to attend — and local residents to hopefully fill the high school auditorium. The Patrick School Board will serve lunch to the crowd, he added.
“When you have a district the size of Patrick County, schools are truly the centerpiece of the community. I want the teachers to know the community appreciates what they’re doing for them,” Martin said.
His message at the convocation will reflect some of the artwork he has moved into his Patrick office: “We’re about dream building and supporting,” he said.
When school opens in the fall, students and staff will see Martin — a lot.
“I love going into classrooms. I love having lunch with the kids” and talking about their day, he said. Martin said he tries to get the children to talk as they would with their parents at the dinner table, about sports, school food or whatever interests them.
He does not expect to make big changes in the school system as acting superintendent.
“My job is to carry on, to make sure the new superintendent has a positive, nurturing environment to proceed with,” he said, adding that he expects to work with people throughout the community to set up lines of communication for the new superintendent.
“I just want to turn the reins over to someone and have them say, ‘Gosh, I still have a lot to learn about the system but you’ve helped me so much to learn what’s here,’” Martin said.
At the end of each day working in Patrick County, Martin will return to his home in Henry County where he is on the board of supervisors, works in real estate and coordinates a program and teaches a class for James Madison University at the New College Institute.
He said after he finishes some pending business, he probably will put his real estate work on hold for six months. He plans to continue with JMU, though he may teach a class in the spring rather than fall as he usually does.
And he will continue on the board of supervisors. “There’s a lot of stuff going on,” he said, adding that he is hopeful of some economic development news there in the future.