The school board on Tuesday picked the 18-20 questions it will ask superintendent finalists when they are presented to the board next March. It also confirmed it would offer the new superintendent $145,000.
At the work session, the North Wasco County School District 21 board also saw the compiled comments from two full days of input-gathering done by McPherson & Jacobson, a nationwide executive search firm hired to help select a new superintendent. (See related story).
The comments, said Dr. Steven Lowder of McPherson and Jacobson, were typical of those seen in any school district, and “in my view, the responses you got were very positive.”
The comments gleaned from students, staff, community leaders and citizens were captured almost verbatim and the 40-page “stakeholder report” is posted on the McPherson & Jacobson website, macnjake.com.
People also completed an online survey, though nobody filled out the survey offered in Spanish. Cindy Miller, executive assistant in the superintendent’s office, said Hispanic residents have said they prefer in-person visits to online information.
Lowder said the comments showed the district’s major strength was its teachers, and that passing a bond for new facilities was a priority. “People respect your teachers. They love your teachers,” he said.
The comments showed a desire for a superintendent who is visible in the schools and the community, and who is transparent.
One application has already been submitted for the position that longtime Superintendent Candy Armstrong vacates when she retires next June. The report includes criticisms of Armstrong, but that is normal in any stakeholder report, Lowder said, and would not scare away applicants.
Dr. Nathan McCann, also with the search firm, said the process “begs for criticism” and is “a chance for outsiders to come in and air their grievances.” It’s cathartic, he said, and an opportunity for them to be heard.
Lowder said no superintendent applicant would be put off by the tone of some of the comments. He also said the issues facing the district are the same issues districts face all around the country.
The big takeaway from the comments, he said, was a genuine concern that to get a bond passed it will take relationship building. He said stakeholders said the school district and city government needed to get along better.
Once applications come in, the search firm will thoroughly evaluate and background-check applicants and assist the board in selecting finalists.
The consultants have planned for full-day visits from three finalists to take place in early March. Each day would include time with staff, a community forum that the public can attend and ask questions of the applicant, an interview panel with citizens on it, and finally, an hour-long interview by the school board.
The candidate’s significant other is also invited to come see the district.
At the community forum, those in attendance will be asked to write down their thoughts on the candidate.
McCann urged the school board to put district critics on the citizen interview panel, which should have 10 or fewer people on it, all of whom must commit to interview every finalist. Lowder wanted one middle school student and one high school student on the interview panel also.
The citizen committee will also have to be told that their role is advisory only.
Board member Rebecca Thistlethwaite said based on the list of desired qualities in a new superintendent, stakeholders are “expecting some sort of miracle worker.”
Lowder said that is common. “Everybody wants someone that walks on water.”
Nobody has all the skill sets a district wants, but you look for someone that best approximates it and is the best fit for the district.
And while a number of stakeholders wanted someone who could pass a bond, Lowder said, “The community is responsible for passing that bond, not the superintendent himself or herself.”
McCann said the compensation was $145,000, but also negotiable. Other items could be brought in for negotiation, including car allowance, cell phone allowance, retirement packages, and technology allowances.
He urged the board to have an intermediary, such as the district’s attorney, do the negotiating back and forth between the candidate and the board, to avoid any negative feelings at the outset. “That part is unpleasant for everybody,” he said.
“You’re about to start this relationship, and you want it to be super positive,” McCann said.