School board waiting on Clarke

One month after Rochester School Superintendent Fred Clarke announced that he was looking for another job, it’s still not clear exactly when he will leave, or when an interim superintendent will be named.

“We’re sort of in a holding pattern as we negotiate with Fred,” school board President Jennifer Berwick said this week. “He does have a contract so we’re working with him to find the right time for us.”

Clarke has applied for at least two other superintendent positions, tiny Grant Public Schools in western Michigan and the nation’s 21st largest district, Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida. The Michigan job has been filled; the Florida job has not as of yet.

In his application cover letter to the Duval Board of Education, Clarke said his year in Rochester has at times been uncomfortable and he’s ready to move on.

“Over a year ago my current district was facing huge financial issues for the first time. I was brought in as a change agent,” he wrote. “Those changes were difficult to take. They were changes that required privatization of services, which resulted in the elimination of 250 jobs. This was not an easy thing to do. The change became much more uncomfortable for the district than they thought it would be. And me as the change agent, I was left holding a lot of the baggage that was attached to those uncomfortable changes.”

As of Tuesday, Clarke hadn’t resigned or been hired elsewhere. In an email, he said his reasons for leaving are as previously announced. “Nothing more. … Just pursuing my passion.”

Berwick said she wasn’t completely surprised by Clarke’s decision to leave. “I knew it was a possibility,” she said. “There’s things I can’t share at this time.”

Shortly after learning that Clarke wanted out, the board appointed a three-member subcommittee to find an interim superintendent. That search is under way, and the committee will make a recommendation to the board. After that, the firm that found Clarke for the district, School Exec Connect, will conduct another search for a permanent superintendent. Under the terms of the firm’s previous contract, there will be no charge this time around except for expenses.

“The search firm has indicated fall is actually a good time to do a search,” Berwick said.

The board was chastised by a parent and former superintendent candidate, Thomas Harwood, at its Aug. 13 meeting. Harwood said the board flubbed “a crucial decision” and “failed to use the compass you were given by this community” at a time when public schools are under attack in Michigan.

“You failed to do the necessary due diligence,” he said. “We not only expect but deserve the respect of knowing what you intend to do.”

While not responding directly to the criticism, Berwick said she doesn’t expect the start of the school year to be affected.

“We have a lot of exciting things happening in our district. I’m confident people won’t know anything is different,” she said. “This is a great district. It’s important that we have the superintendent that’s the right superintendent.”

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