Interview: Dr. Kizner, New Harrisonburg Schools Superintendent

Dr. Kizner, new superintendent of Harrisonburg City Public Schools

“I’ll never accept as a reason that a child cannot succeed and excel,” says Dr. Scott Kizner, Harrisonburg’s newly appointed Superintendent of schools. The city school board unanimously approved today Kizner’s four-year contract to start on July 1, 2010 with an annual salary of $141,000. (See full press release)

Dr. Kizner , currently in his sixth year as Superintendent of the Martinsville (VA) City Public Schools (MCPS), was one of three finalists for the Harrisonburg position from among 20 candidates from Virginia and other states, according to city school board documents. In taking the Harrisonburg position, Kizner will also be taking an annual salary cut from  $143,000+ contract awarded by Martinsville in 2008. Martinsville has an annual budget of around $22 million compared to Harrisonburg’s almost $56 million for ‘09-’10. Westerly (RI) Public Schools, where Kizner also served as Superintendent for six years, has a budget of about $50 million.

Kizner is familiar with difficult budget decisions as Martinsville has Virginia’s highest unemployment rate at over 21% and a student population that has decreased to its current level of almost 2500. Martinsville did meet its federal AYP requirements (Adequate Yearly Progress) and, in a recent independent efficiency review contracted by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, it was concluded that Martinsville was “a highly efficient and effective school division.”

In his first interview after his appointment, Kizner noted his “excitement and desire to get to know the school system and people of Harrisonburg” as his first item of business. Kizner is no stranger to Harrisonburg, though. The New York native earned his Master of Arts degree from James Madison University and currently has a daughter attending JMU. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with JMU and the other area institutions on everything from early childhood through high school,” said Kizner.

Among his Martinsville tenure highlights, Kizner said he is proud of a program that works with parents (68% of students live in single parent home, according to MCPS)across the school system  in an effort to have all students apply for college, whether they plan to attend or not. “From my work in special education,” said Kizner, “I know you have to start with every child’s strengths and then work hard to raise their standards.” Martinsville requires that all students complete 40 hours of service learning/community service prior to graduation.

Kizner also noted his support for the arts, remarking that during tough budget decisions he has “never touched his arts budgets.”  “Arts are the reason that some kids wake up to go to school. For some kids who may be struggling, this is how they best express themselves.”  An arts-mentoring program in MCPS is set to receive recognition from Virginia Tech, according to Kizner.

Kizner plans to move to Harrisonburg with his family in the beginning of July. At the time of this posting, a Martinsville School Board member had not yet returned a request for comment.

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