By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
Madison County School Board chair Mona Isaacs said she wanted to make the district’s search for a new superintendent “as transparent as possible.”
To achieve this goal, board members discussed ideas at a special called meeting Wednesday to get the community more involved in picking the district’s next leader.
Superintendent Tommy Floyd will be leaving July 1 for a new position at the Kentucky Department of Education.
“It would be a very good opportunity for us to listen,” Isaacs said. “I think it was abundantly clear Thursday night (at the monthly board meeting) that we’re not listening or that we’re not making those opportunities to listen.”
Isaacs was referring to the May 9 meeting at which a roomful of district staff protested a proposal to cut two contracted work days from the school calendar, effectively slashing pay for every district employee. The proposal died for lack of motion.
“With those teachers coming in a group like that ― we needed to listen,” said board member Becky Coyle.
“I certainly feel like I would be able to make a better decision if I had some people that are in the trenches advising us of what they need,” Isaacs added.
She suggested the board consider feedback from three focus groups: Parents, teachers and classified staff. Each group of 30 to 35 people would consist of two volunteers from each school.
Community members who are not involved with the school system also would have an opportunity to voice their opinion through an online or printed survey, she said.
The focus groups would submit a report, which would be used to develop the charge to the screening committee, she said.
Board members also agreed that their attending the focus groups would deter people from speaking freely.
Isaacs proposed the focus groups meet during the week after the last day of school while teachers and classified staff are still working.
Teacher and classified staff focus groups can meet during the work day and the parent group can meet in the evening, she said.
“This is our opportunity … to have a framework where the board listens to the community and our faculty and our staff,” Isaacs said. “We’ll make a better decision and the next superintendent will have the support of all these people who have an opportunity to tell us what they think.”
The process of selection
On Wednesday, the board met with Mike Oder, a superintendent search consultant with the Kentucky School Board Association.
KSBA reduced its $8,500 fee for superintendent search consulting services to $7,000. The district will create its own brochures and complete some of the other services usually covered by KSBA’s comprehensive plan.
Isaacs thanked board member Mary Renfro, who asked KSBA representative David Baird to reduce the price of consultation services at the May 9 board meeting.
On Wednesday, Oder guided the board through the process of finding a good fit for the district.
Oder is a retired educator who spent five years as a high school principal and 12 years as a superintendent, he said. “So, I have an idea of what you’re looking for.”
The first order of business was to determine a timeline for the task.
After various schedule conflicts, the board determined July 8 would be the soonest it could start interviewing candidates. The tentative date to announce the new superintendent is July 18. The official timeline has not been determined and is subject to change.
But board members agreed that hiring a new superintendent is not something they can rush through.
“I want to be thorough, and I think slow and steady is going to win this race. I want to give the people on the screening committee ample time to do their job,” said Brock, who sat on the screening committee as a parent representative during the last superintendent search.
Oder originally presented an “aggressive” timeline and proposed advertising the position for the required 30 days, instead of the customary six weeks. Brock asked if cutting that time short would put the district at a disadvantage.
“If this were another part of the state, I would say that you might be. But, you all are a high-profile district, and I would say that everybody already knows there’s an opening here and they are just waiting for the details of the ad to come out to jump on it,” Oder said. “You’ll have a number of applications.”
The number of applications received depend on three things: Location; the number of “strong internal candidates” who apply for the job and deter other would-be candidates; and “whether or not your district is a mess or not,” he said.
Most educator contracts run from July 1 to June 30, he said. So the longer the board waits to hire a superintendent, the less likely someone would submit an application if they are contracted with another district.
However, if none of the applicants are desirable, Oder advised the board to “start all over at another time of the year when it’s regular superintendent fishing season,” he said, usually in late winter and spring.
The next step in the process is to form a screening committee that will check references, make sure applicants align with what the board is looking for and eventually recommend three to five candidates to interview.
The board also will be able to review applicants who were not recommended by the committee.
The screening committee will consist of two teachers elected by teachers; one principal elected by principals; one parent elected by parent-teacher organization presidents; one board member appointed by the chair; and one classified employee elected by classified employees.
Because the district has a more than 8 percent minority population (12 percent), a person from a racial minority group must be elected to the committee, Oder said. If a person from a minority group is not elected to the committee, an additional election must be conducted in which parents would elect a minority parent to join the committee.
Oder will then walk the screening committee through a process that “allows the cream to rise to the top,” he said.
But Isaacs wanted to make sure the committee’s charge also is guided by the input received from the focus groups and the community.
Oder said this feedback will help board members with their interview questions as well.
Isaacs appointed Coyle to the committee because she has been part of three past superintendent searches.
“If (a principal) is thinking about applying for the position, they should remove themselves from consideration in that election,” Oder said in regards to the principal election.
The board must ask local teacher organizations, such as the Madison County Education Association and the Kentucky Association of Professional Educators, to conduct the teacher election. The district is not permitted to facilitate the nomination or election process.
Brock and board member John Lackey were concerned that teachers who are not affiliated with either organization would not have the chance to be elected.
Oder said any teacher may nominate themselves or someone else, but the process must be left in the hands of these teacher organizations.
“The law says teachers must be given the opportunity to conduct their own election,” Oder said. “It’s done in different ways in different school districts … I guarantee they (teacher organizations) will want to do this.”
Because there is no local classified staff organization, that election is initiated through central office, he said.
Oder suggested sending a sample ballot out to all constituents before the nomination period closes to ensure every candidate is included.
Any parent living within the district who has a child in the school district can be nominated or nominate themselves, Oder said. The committee members must be selected by the presidents of the schools’ parent-teacher organizations. Only PTO presidents can make the selection, whether each school has such an organization or not.
The board will discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent during a closed session at the May 21 work session. An interim superintendent must be in place by the time Floyd leaves July 1.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.