Search For School Superintendent Takes Center Stage

March will be crunch time for the Rochester board of education in its search to find a replacement for retiring school superintendent David Pruneau.  As of last week, some 40 people had applied for the position through Chicago-based consulting firm School Exec Connect. The job posting on the firm’s Web site states that the district is seeking someone with “highly successful, demonstrated leadership in high-performing school districts” and, preferably, a doctoral degree. The application deadline is March 1.

Thus far, the consulting firm has engaged the board and the public in conversation to find out what the community envisions in a new superintendent. More than 900 people participated in an online survey. The results of the outreach effort were presented to the board Feb. 14.

“There is quite a bit of unanimity,” said consultant Lawrence Lobert. He said respondents want to keep the quality staff and high student achievement the district has come to expect. And they want a superintendent who is child-centered, strong on curriculum and instruction, visible, creative, collaborative and inspiring.

Consultant Carol Klenow said the message “came through loud and clear: We want somebody who can point to a track record that they’ve actually done something, that they can get results. … They said again and again that they have to be someone who loves children and is really focused on children. … People understand there is a budget … but here in this district we don’t want to lose sight of what we’re working for.”

School-board President Barb Cenko is the only current board member who has previously been through a superintendent search. She said the process is similar to that used when Pruneau was hired. Some board members were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough time to make a good decision, or that they wouldn’t be satisfied with the slate of candidates and would want to start over. Some said they’d like to have the names of the candidates earlier (a problem given their right to confidentiality until they are selected for interview).

Cenko said she’s comfortable the process will work. “I think that’s the value the search firm brings to the table,” she said. “They do a very good job of vetting the candidates and hitting the points” the community has already identified.

On March 7, the consultants will bring a list of the top five to six candidates to the board in closed session. If the board is satisfied with the slate, the board will convene an open session and announce the names of the candidates to be interviewed.

Interviews will be held during open board meetings on March 14, 16 and 17, two per night for one hour each. When the interviews are completed, the board hopes to be able to whittle down the slate to no more than three finalists.

The finalists will then each spend a day in the district on either March 22, 24 or 25 (if needed). They will meet with community members and submit to a public forum from 6-7 p.m. before going before the board for a second interview at 7 p.m. The board hopes to be able to make a decision as soon as the interviews are over.

But before that,” We need to at least be picking up the phone and calling our counterparts in their community,” Cenko said. The board hasn’t decided yet whether any members will make personal visits to the finalists’ home districts. “I think a lot will depend on our comfort level with the candidates,” she said.

When asked about pay for the next superintendent, who is expected to take over on July 1, Cenko said it’s anybody’s guess at this point. Due at least in part to statewide retirement incentives last year, there are a lot of openings for superintendents right now, she said. Will that mean prices will go up? Or will the poor economy and state budget drive prices down?

“I don’t think people know yet,” Cenko said.

Whoever takes over the job will be facing challenging financial times, based on Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal, which was unveiled Feb. 17.

“It’s really going to be an incredibly challenging time for school districts to weather the kind of cuts they’re proposing, in addition to seeing retirement rates escalate,” Cenko said.

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