Kafitz settles into superintendent seat
by Kellen Moore
It's a hectic start for the first-time superintendent, but Kafitz said he hopes it will be the beginning of a long and productive term with Watauga County Schools.
"The first time I interviewed with (the school board), I told them, if you're going to hire me, you're not going to hire me to be in and out of here in three to four years," Kafitz said in an interview Tuesday. "Truly, our interest is to come to stay."
Kafitz comes from Union County, where he served for about five months as principal of East Elementary. His wife, Amy, and two young daughters are still in Marshville for the time being until their house sells, he said.
An Asheville native, Kafitz said he had no intention of teaching when he entered college. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a double major in finance and management.
But after working at Camp Daniel Boone for years and with the guidance of mentors and godparents who were educators, Kafitz realized education was the path he wanted to take.
He received his teaching certificate from UNC-Asheville, followed by a master's degree in elementary education and a doctorate degree in education leadership from Western Carolina University.
He since has spent 16 years in education across three school systems and as an educator-on-loan for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Kafitz, who takes over from interim Superintendent Dick Jones, will make $120,000 annually.
As he begins his four-year contract, Kafitz sat down with the Watauga Democrat to discuss his thoughts on taking the helm at Watauga County Schools.
On a superintendent's role …
"To me, it's a superintendent's job to work with the board to craft the mission and vision of the school system and to execute on that," Kafitz said. "Once that's in place, then it becomes my job to build the leadership team of the school system to lead towards that vision."
Kafitz said the superintendent ought to maintain relationships with community members, a step he is beginning now as he meets with law enforcement, local government and civic groups.
The superintendent must ensure fiscal responsibility with ever-more-limited resources and must be a model for the school system employees, setting the goals and expectations, Kafitz said.
On school choice …
Discussions have continued throughout North Carolina in recent years regarding school options and the quality of public education. Locally, the school board recently opposed a proposed statewide online charter school and raised concerns in 2011 about a bill that removed the statewide cap on number of charter schools.
In other districts, debates rage over school vouchers that would allow parents to enroll their children in private schools at public expense.
"As there become more and more options out there for parents educating our children, it's my role that we stay the first choice for all parents," Kafitz said.
"I don't mind the competition, because I think that just reminds me that somewhere we haven't done everything we need to do to meet the needs of all children. It makes me back up and go, where do we need to fix things or look for added services or differentiated programs to meet the needs of children whose parents decided that we weren't."
On Watauga's immediate needs …
Kafitz said Watauga County Schools will need to ensure teachers can successfully migrate this fall to a new curriculum called the Common Core and Essential Standards.
He said the new curriculum demands greater mastery of specific topics and demands that students be able to demonstrate skills at specific grade levels.
The instructional approach relies on more project-based learning and small group work, instead of having the teacher as the sole provider of knowledge, he said.
"It's going to take us time working with our teachers to make sure there's change in the instructional process," Kafitz said.
On WCS's technology future …
During his two-and-a-half years as technology director of Union County Public Schools, Kafitz supervised the implementation of the largest middle school laptop initiative in the state.
In Watauga County, each high school student was provided with a laptop computer in fall 2010 through the Pioneer IT initiative. Few computer labs were included as part of the new high school.
Kafitz said his experience showed that technology initiatives must be preceded by heavy instruction for the professional staff to ensure teachers are comfortable with the tools themselves.
He also said building the infrastructure to handle new technologies and finding multiple funding streams will be crucial to exploring the promise of technology's new role in education.
"In terms of going forward, we are going to have to find a way to put digital instruments into the hands of our kids pre-K-12," Kafitz said, adding that Watauga High School's program is a good start but cannot be the end.
"The most successful teachers that I have seen put technology to use in the classroom are typically the ones that are open to even the kids being the smartest ones in the class about technology," he said. " … That opens up a whole different piece of the relationships between students and teacher when the student becomes the teacher."
On working in a rural district …
While students in Watauga County Schools are not considered as high-poverty as many other districts, there are pockets of need in the county.
Kafitz said he got experience working in situations of extreme poverty at East Elementary, where he worked most recently.
Even there, EOG tests often showed students improving by one to two years in just one grade level. The key was teachers designing differentiated instructional processes to meet the needs of each student, he said.
Kafitz also spent two summers abroad visiting schools in Europe and in the South Pacific, seeing the gamut of education across the globe.
"Those were experiences that really shaped how I looked at what I wanted to be doing in my classroom," Kafitz said.
On the next steps …
Kafitz plans to meet Aug. 3 with the entire Watauga County Schools staff to share his goals and expectations for the coming years.
Kafitz said he is excited to welcome students back on Aug. 8 and to see for himself the high quality of education he has heard so much about.
He said he hopes to stay here through retirement and added that he believes Watauga County will be the optimal place both to fulfill his personal career goals and to raise a family.
"We feel like we've won the lottery," Kafitz said.
Board of Education Chairwoman Deborah Miller said she has been impressed with how active Kafitz has been from the start in his communications with central office staff and the board.
"We are absolutely pleased with the selection we've made," Miller said.