The Harrison County School System is looking for a new superintendent now that Robert E. Kittle has announced he will retire on June 30. Kittle has helped guide the school system through times of major change -- everything from school closings and consolidations to increased worries about school violence.
But Kittle's successor won't have it any easier. There will be plenty of problems to keep the county's next superintendent up at nights. Here are a few:
n A continued decline in student enrollment.
n A decrease in state funding. The state bases education funding on student enrollment. Fewer students will mean fewer dollars from Charleston.
n More school closings and consolidations. Fewer students, less state funding and the state School Building Authority's push for school consolidation projects will bring this about. The Harrison school system recently came up with a Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan that outlined needs over the next 10 years. The county is not bound to follow the plan, but the outline does propose numerous consolidations. Among the possibilities: Salem and Gore Middle schools; Harden and Van Horn elementaries in Salem; Adamston, Wilsonburg and North View elementaries; Johnson and Simpson elementaries in Bridgeport.
n Angry parents. Schools aren't closed and consolidated without angering parents, who don't want their children traveling farther to attend bigger schools. The same goes for communities, which don't want to lose what is often the focal point of local activities.
n A shortage of teachers. Despite declining enrollment, public school teachers may be hard to find by the end of this decade. Fifty-five percent of the state's teachers will be eligible to retire by 2010, while the number of college students entering teacher education programs has fallen sharply. Harrison County, as well other counties, is already having trouble finding enough substitute teachers. That may be a hint of the future.
When he leaves, Kittle will take with him a wealth of experience: 43 years in the education profession, 40 of those in administration; 22 years as a superintendent, 15 of those in Harrison County. It's unlikely Kittle's successor will have that kind of experience. But he'll gain some in a hurry as he wades into the briar patch that's ahead.