A transparent, ethical person with previous superintendent experience and a strong background in working with special education students topped the list of desires in a new school superintendent at a community feedback meeting Wednesday.
That community meeting drew only two people—both with a strong focus on special education and a strongly negative view of how retiring D21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong was handling it.
But the two of them gave a longer list of attributes they’d like to see in a new superintendent than some of the larger groups that an executive search firm representative met with earlier in the day.
In all, Dr. Nathan McCann, with McPherson & Jacobson, spoke to 47 people, ranging from students to staff to administrators to select community members and, finally, the evening meeting to hear from the public. Group size ranged from two people up to 10.
Another day of community feedback meetings is set for next Wednesday, Nov. 13. The meeting is open to the public runs from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center.
People can also go online and fill in a survey, which can be found on the district’s website at nwasco.k12.or.us under “announcements and latest headlines.” The survey is in Spanish and English, and asks four questions: what are the good things about the community; what are the good things about the district; what issues should a new superintendent be aware of; and what skills, qualities or characteristics do you want in a new superintendent? The survey is available through Nov. 18.
Armstrong retires next June. Her replacement will be hired by next spring. The community feedback is used to help the executive search firm alert candidates to what the community is looking for in a superintendent.
McCann makes a point of not getting the names of people providing feedback and the two at the community meeting did not offer their names to the Chronicle. District officials and school board members were specifically told to stay away from the community feedback meeting. The only district representative in the room was an interpreter who was on hand in case she was needed.
He said having just two people at such a meeting was not entirely unexpected. He said a showing of up to eight people might have been ideal. He said in his work community feedback is coming more and more from online surveys.
McCann lauded the student feedback he heard earlier in the day. He met with select middle school and high school students. “These kids, both groups, were sensational, ridiculously good. They were articulate, sharp. I stole some lines from a girl at the high school. I was like, ‘Ohhh, that’s good.’”
In addition to a special education focus, those attending wanted a superintendent with a strong fiscal management background and an ability to work collaboratively with the community, and be a visible presence in the community and in school classrooms, including special education programs, and be a younger person willing to stay long-term in The Dalles.
They wanted a superintendent with experience with charter schools, since the district has two of them—Mosier Community School and Wahtonka Community School.
They wanted a superintendent who was not afraid to fire people if need be and one who was familiar not only with district policy but state and federal law.
They had a negative view of the district, one saying they had “nothing positive to say” about North Wasco County School District 21.
One woman said there was no open communication with the district and a lack of professional communication one would expect from anyone in local government. “You don’t feel like you can be a part of the school district if you can’t access the upper echelons.”
One woman said the district “does not have community trust right now… in general there’s no community sense of positive feeling or well being.”
One of the women wanted a superintendent who supported staff and recognized their value. “We have a lot of teacher turnover and I feel it’s because they don’t feel supported and they don’t feel valued.”
She wanted to have a superintendent who supported training and education for staff.
She also said she wanted the district to offer a drug and alcohol program at the high school.
McCann said he’d heard a lot of feedback about trust in his meetings throughout the day, and also about the condition of schools.
One of the women said she wanted a superintendent who went “line by line” through the budget and was aware when personnel made transfers between line items.