This is the first in a series of stories on the superintendent finalists.
Dr. Deonia A. Simmons, a native of Denmark and resident of Cope, is one of three finalists for superintendent of Orangeburg Consolidated School District Four.
Simmons grew up in Denmark and graduated from Denmark-Olar High School and Voorhees College. He taught and served in various administrative capacities in North Carolina and Florida before returning to South Carolina two years ago to become superintendent of Hampton County School District Two.
Simmons says he wants to become superintendent of OCSD 4 because he feels he's a good "fit" for the district. He says he believes he fills many of the criteria for the district's ideal superintendent listed in the Focus Groups Report.
"One of the main reasons I applied for the position - they're looking for someone to be there long-term, and I'm looking to make a long-term commitment," Simmons said.
His dad and sister are here; he and his wife love the area and they want to stay, he said.
Although he isn't pastoring a church, Simmons is an ordained minister who is actively involved with his church in Williston and several other churches in the area. He is involved in various organizations, including the South Carolina Association of School Administrators and the Salkehatchie Consortium of Superintendents, serving as chair. He is also involved with the Hampton Chamber of Commerce.
Simmons said he feels he fits the district's call for a collaborative leader who can "bridge the gap" and unite a diverse community. He has worked with the affluent and the poor and with people of different races, he said.
"I am a people-person. I have a good understanding based on my experience in Nassau (school district in Florida) - their range of socio-economic standards and academic levels. That, coupled with my experience in Hampton where a majority (of students are members of a minority) ... this is where I deal with and can address all people by virtue of wanting to see everyone get the best that we have to offer."
Simmons says he is an effective communicator who can communicate with both adults and children. He said he believes this will aid him in uniting the community and promoting his vision.
"My vision for OCSD 4 is to make it South Carolina's next premier school district," Simmons said. "My philosophy is rooted in the belief that all children can learn and that all should be afforded the opportunity to learn."
But Simmons notes that each child is unique with different abilities and interests.
"It's also important to remember that children learn differently and, as such, we should provide instruction that lends itself to addressing the various learning styles of all," he said.
According to Simmons, the most critical need for any school is for each child to be able to read with comprehension.
"I can't speak for what has happened in the district thus far," he said. "But I can say that reading is critical and we have to start and/or continue a district-wide reading initiative."
This is where evaluation comes in, according to Simmons. Before creating a plan to carry out his vision, he said he must find the district's strengths and weaknesses.
"In order to apply the vision, you have to be able to evaluate the organization," he said. "You have to find out where it is in order to move it to the next level."
In these days of tight budgets, Simmons says that if he becomes the superintendent of OCSD 4, he will prioritize the programs that are absolutely critical to the students.
Budget cuts must be made without lowering expectations of teachers or students, he said.
"We did a $2 million cut (in Hampton District Two)," he said. (At the same time), "we were able to post double digits in improvement in the elementary and high school testing levels."
The improvement was accomplished through teacher training and mock testing that prepared students for tests, Simmons said.
He says he will also build relationships with legislators if hired as superintendent.
"I'd be communicating the needs of our district, sharing concerns about legislation that's coming down that might limit our ability to do what we need to do," he said.
Simmons earned a master's degree in educational management in 2000 and a doctorate in organizational leadership in 2004 from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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