Thursday, February 9, 2012

Superintendent Discussion Delayed at C-1 Board Retreat

By Mary Kay Morrow
A process for how, when, and if the Hickman Mills School Board will do any search for the district’s permanent superintendent has been delayed until summer.
In August, the board voted 5-to-2 in closed session to accept Superintendent Dr. Marge Williams’ succession recommendation that promoted Dr. Everlyn Williams to a new Deputy Superintendent position this year, and Interim Superintendent next year 2012-13.  
The vote appeared to violate the board’s own written Policy 1015, which states: The Board of Education is solely responsible for the recruitment, selection and appointment of the superintendent of schools.The Board will conduct an active search to find the individual believed most capable of putting into action the policies of the Board.
The interim superintendent position (as well as other administrative appointments) was not posted and interviews were not conducted. Not even Dr. Everlyn Williams herself was interviewed for the job.
Board Members Darrell Curls and Dan Osman voted against the recommendation in hopes that candidate credentials would be presented and the selection process be explored.
Since then, however, the issue of the superintendent’s position has not been discussed by the board at a regular meeting. That doesn’t mean the issue hasn’t been considered by others, however.
District Groundsman Wesley Van Hoecke spoke out at a recent school board meeting, questioning the lack of vetting for the district’s top jobs.
“It doesn’t seem fair when you’ve got the highest paid people getting appointed to jobs,” he told the board. “Buildings & Grounds can’t do that.  Food services can’t.  I can’t put it any simpler than that.”
Van Hoecke went on to ask how officials know they’ve gotten the best people without interviews, and to say he didn’t think the appointments could be justified simply by saying that it’s the way it’s been done in the past.
At the school board’s retreat last Saturday, Board Member Darrell Curls raised the topic of the superintendent selection process, saying he didn’t want the board to be caught blindsided after it was too late to examine the process and make the best possible choice – a choice he feels is one of the most important decisions school boards make.
“To me, right now we have no plan,” Curls said.  “We need to have a clear-cut understanding as to how this board is going to proceed.  All I’m asking for is how are we proceeding from this point.”
A member of the Policy Committee, Curls pressed for timeframes and a process for the board to decide whether or not to do a search and to move forward with a step-by-step selection process.
“When will it be too late to look at the process?” he asked.  “We need to know what those timelines are. Right now, we haven’t even talked about it.”
Board President Bonnaye Mims cut off discussion saying that she has already put some of the process in place and will have it to put in front of the board for discussion before June.
“I have not presented it to you guys because we’ve been having a lot (going on),” Mims said.  “Toward the end of June, we’ll have that process in place.”
Superintendent Marge Williams, whose term expires June 30, 2012, offered guidance to the board.  She stressed that it’s the board’s responsibility to have a process in place that will move them toward making their ultimate decision. 
“You’re going to have to make a decision on who your permanent superintendent is, whether you do a search or you remove the ‘interim’ [from Dr. Everlyn Williams’ title,]” she said.
The current superintendent explained that nothing prohibits the board from having discussions before June and suggested they get together by July to put the process and timeline in place.
“By November or December of next year, you should be well aware whether you’re going for an internal candidate or an external candidate who would take on the reigns for you July 1, 2013,” Dr. Marge Williams said.
She cautioned the board to clarify what “search” means.
“Your policy does not dictate that a search has to be external if you believe in fact the best candidate is an internal candidate. You can do a search internally,” Williams said.
In school districts across Missouri, the average superintendent search typically takes four months and costs $15-40,000.
Board Member JT Brown agreed with Curls on the need to have written steps in place on how to proceed - but not necessarily that the selection of a superintendent was the most important board function.
“Our number one job is to support the choice that the majority of the board has made.  We have this administrative staff in place right now,” Brown said.  “Regardless of how the minority feels now, it’s time to get in line with the rest of us.”
Brown said he believes that if the board stands strong in support of the choice it already made, that person has a much better chance of bringing the district, which has struggled to keep its accreditation, to the next step.
“Our best bet is to choose someone who knows our children, who knows our district, who knows this board, and who knows the community.”
President Mims and Board Member April Cushing echoed some of Brown’s sentiments. 
Mims believes the best way forward is to promote from within.
“You want to bring someone new in that doesn’t know you, and then you’re all back trying to scramble and pull stuff together and trying to move forward while still trying to groom?  Or, are you going to look at promoting from within with the best that knows our community, our students, our curriculum, and the staff?”
She said she would like the board to support the current administration.
“People need to get on ship, get on board. If you don’t, move on,” Mims said.
Last September, Superintendent Dr. Marge Williams said that the board was considering hiring a search firm to look for a new superintendent and that timing was an issue.
“The board has not taken any action past 2012-13,” Dr. Williams said last fall. 
And for now, and potentially for months to come, that is still the case.

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