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ow we know who Bedford County Public School's next superintendent will be. Dr. Douglas R. Schuch was introduced to the public at a press conference on Friday.
Although Dr. Schuch is taking command at a difficult budgetary time, he will face a better situation than Dr. James Blevins faced when he came 11 years ago.
For one thing, Dr. Blevins is leaving while in the good graces of the school board. Back in 1998, the school board was about ready to tar and feather Dr. John Kent and ride him out of town on a rail.
Dr. Schuch will spend 10 days working with Dr. Blevins, prior to taking over. This will create the opportunity for a smooth hand-off. When Dr. Blevins got here, he found empty files in the superintendent's office.
Dr. Blevins leaves a school division in good shape. Funding is a problem, but the county's schools are facing the same situation that every school system in Virginia is having to deal with. At least Dr. Schuch isn't going to have to clean up any messes that his predecessor left behind.
We wish Dr. Blevins well in his retirement, the timing of which had nothing to do with the current fiscal challenge that the school division has had to face. Dr. Blevins announced it well before the cuts in state funding to schools began to be discussed. Had he waited another year, it could have given the appearance of the pilot putting on a parachute, so his timing turned out to be perfect.
We also wish Dr. Schuch well in his new job. It won't be easy. For one thing, the budgetary challenges he faces are serious. Federal stimulus money means that personnel cuts won't be as deep as originally planned. Dr. Blevins said that they are now looking at eliminating 28 positions, instead of 75. It's not good, but it's not as bad as it could have been.
Then, there's next year. Nobody knows how deep the recession will be or how long it will last. Dr. Schuch may have to make some hard decisions next year.
Another challenge he will face is skepticism over whether his prior experience is adequate for the job he takes over on July 1. Dr. Schuch has been an assistant principal, but never served as a principal before moving to a central office job with Stafford County Public Schools. As Talbot Huff, the former District 2 school board member noted, the superintendent of schools is at a level where he is managing managers. He will be managing principals without ever having done that job.
We take this criticism seriously, but we think that Dr. Schuch will do just fine. Assistant principals often seem to be a school's head-knockers. They are first in line to handle serious disciplinary cases. This is not an easy task and requires tact and care if it's done well.
Dr. Schuch, in his central office role, has been in the middle of some hard decision making. Stafford County Public Schools overbuilt schools as it dealt with a growing student population. They were facing the possibility of having to close some schools.
Then there is his military experience. As a Naval officer, Dr. Schuch had 160 people under his command during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. As a meteorological and oceanographic officer, Dr. Schuch was one of those responsible for providing vital information to the commanders of U. S. Naval forces in the Gulf that they needed for their decision making. Commanding during a war, even if you are not in the line of fire, is not a stroll in the park.