By Kyle Lovern
CINDERELLA – He has been in his new role as Superintendent of Schools for Mingo County for two months now and Don Spence is focusing on the positive aspects of the school system.
“We are moving along in a positive manner and trying to be upbeat,” Spence said from his second floor office at the Mingo County Board of Education office at Cinderella Hollow. “We are working on communications and transparency.”
“Later on we will have to be looking at money issues,” Spence said. “I think we are in pretty good shape. We are not having the same struggles as other counties are having at this time.”
He noted that many counties in southern W.Va. have had to layoff teachers and other school employees because of the decrease in tax revenue.
“When your tax base is decreasing, you have to be very careful with the money,” Spence added. “I will say that those before me had the foresight to enable us to move forward. We haven’t had to make wholesale changes. It could have been worse this year.”
Spence knows the Mingo County school system inside and out. He started out as a teacher back in the early 1980s and was a coach in three sports until 2001. Spence coached football, basketball and baseball at Lenore and Tug Valley. He then moved into an assistant principal position and eventually became a head principal – first at Lenore K-8 and then at Dingess Elementary. He spent 16 years as an administrator, and that experience helped him with his new role.
Spence has 32 years in the Mingo County School System. “You get to know people in the communities,” Spence said. He feels that helps him when it comes to communication and understanding the problems facing certain schools in the county.
Spence jumped in feet first after being named interim superintendent right before the start of the 2016-17 school term. He visited every school in the county on the first two days of classes. Since then he has been back to many of the schools to check on progress and just to communicate with administrators and faculty.
“I just think you need to be visible and be out there to talk to people,” Spence stressed. “Not just teachers and administrators, but cooks, bus drivers and everybody. Everybody is important.”
“If we are all on the same team and have open communication – that just makes things run smoother,” Spence added.
Spence said there are always negative comments made about certain situations. Like the recent air conditioning problems at Mingo Central High School. In today’s society, social media can make that even more commonplace.
“Societies norms are to accentuate the negative,” Spence said. “But it only takes a little energy to say something positive.”
He looks at the improved test scores for Mingo County that were recently released and wants that kind of positive news publicized so that people will understand there are some good things going on in the school system.
“There has been a lot of effort in getting things fixed and James Ed (Baisden) and the Maintenance Department have done a great job,” Spence said. “Sometimes it takes some time. But they continue to work as hard as they can.”
“I’ve heard all my life that the best thing about Mingo County is its people – and I believe that with all my heart,” Spence said.
“I want to see our kids get a quality education,” Spence declared. “These students are going to be our future leaders in the next few years. I want to get them prepared. Hopefully they will find a good job and be productive.”
“I think we are moving in the right direction,” Spence concluded. “Hopefully I can help to continue that process.”
(Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Civitas Media Mountain District including the Williamson Daily News and Logan Banner. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)