New superintendent to make mark on Picayune schools

Published 5:12 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Dean Shaw is following two acclaimed superintendents for Picayune’s schools, Dr. Penny Wallin who left at the end of last year and Dr. Tom Clark, who served the previous four-and-a-half years.

That is a good thing for Shaw, who will be a freshman as superintendent when he assumes his new post on July 1. The school system is in good shape and would be in even better shape had not Hurricane Katrina knocked everybody back on their heels for a year or so.

That also means everybody will be watching him closely, and he knows it. However, being watched closely isn’t knew to someone who spent as many years in the coaching profession as Shaw spent, and spent quite successfully.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Coaches are under even more scrutiny in our society than school administrators because a score at the end of the game makes it easy to tell when one is winning or losing.

Success at education is a little more difficult to quantify despite all the efforts in recent years to do so. In education, there are far more variables than there are in sports, though the two have some similarities.

Anyone who has watched sports has noticed that some teams do better under a particular coach than others. That’s due to both the talent of the members of the team and the chemistry they form with one another and with the coach. Some teams outplay their talent due to the chemistry among them and the coach and due to the coach’s abilities as a coach.

Shaw has been so successful over his 22 years as a head basketball coach he certainly knows this better than most. He has coached some spectacularly talented players and some not very talented at all, yet he has been able to wring out winning seasons in every case but one, and that was a season tied in wins and losses and came very early in his career.

In discussing his new job, it was no mistake that he mentioned “team” and having people work together. He knows the value of a team and working together better than most because he has made it work so well as a basketball coach.

Now he faces managing and coaching a “team” of about 3,700 students and a “team” of “coaches” in the form of the district’s 253 teachers. Just as in the basketball teams he coached, some years the talent of the students will be spectacular and the “team” seemingly will soar on its own, though he especially knows that isn’t the only reason they soar. In other years, the success obviously will depend more on what level the “team” of teachers can coach them.

Shaw obviously is accustomed to success, therefore it is likely he will do what it takes to help his team of teachers and his team of students to do their very best, in fact, do better than what others might expect of them.

That won’t happen overnight. His success as a basketball coach didn’t come overnight, though looking at his spectacular record, in some respects it appears that it did come that rapidly.

This time, though, he is playing the whole team. There are no starters or substitutes or bench warmers. Every student is a starter and every teacher is a coach. He certainly understands that, for it was very obvious that when he said he “loves this school district” and that students are what are “important” to him that he meant what he said, just as it was obvious he meant what he said about teamwork.

Shaw takes over these “teams” at an important juncture for the school district. With all the home construction going on in the district, it is obvious that it is going to grow. The district is just coming off a year of recovering from a hurricane and from a storm that developed in the ranks of the sitting board over a disciplinary matter. Now, a new, inexperienced, member is replacing one of the experienced members of the school board.

The members of the board comprise the first set of “game officials” he will have to satisfy and, in today’s layered system, he faces “game officials” at both the state and national levels.

One wonders how a “game” can be decided with so many sets of officials second guessing each other.

There will be scores on the multitude of state and national tests that students must take today. There will scores in the form of the level of accreditation that each school in the district receives. All of these will be seen as whether he is coaching a winning team or not and those are the numbers that will make up his won-loss record as a superintendent the public.

In the case of education, though, the level of success is more nebulous than all the numbers on the scoreboard. What counts is the success of the members of the team, students in this case, after they leave the school because of what they were able to bring away with them and go on with the rest of their lives.

For that most important reason Dean Shaw needs our prayers, best wishes and assistance.