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School board trims search for chief to three, but won’t say who

[03/21/01] Three finalists for superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District have been picked by school trustees, but their names won’t be revealed until interviews are scheduled.

“Until we let those people know, I cannot and will not release the names,” said Zelmarine Murphy, president of the five-member board of trustees.

During a Jan. 29 meeting led by Dr. Richard Boyd and Dr. Andy Mullins, consultants from the University of Mississippi hired to assist the 9,200-student district in its search, people present were told the names of five finalists would be revealed.

However, this morning, vice president John Carlisle, secretary Pearline Williams and trustees Kay Aasand and Chad Barrett said they would not release the names of any finalists under the advice of the consultants.

“I’m not going to lie; as a parent, I would want to know,” Aasand said. “But one thing the consultants hammered was You’ve got to keep the confidentiality.'”

Barrett agreed. “Collectively, the consultants asked us not to, and we agreed we wouldn’t as a courtesy to the consultants and applicants.”

When he ran for school board office in 1998, Barrett said he felt the public should have a right to be informed about the school district. “I feel like the public’s not informed about what’s going on.”

Boyd differed this morning, saying he and Mullins simply suggested the board keep the names of the three finalists private to protect the applicants.

“We caution boards to be careful how they handle this,” Boyd said. “But how they handle it, that is up to them.”

As soon as interviews are scheduled, Murphy said this morning, the names of the three finalists will be released. Trustees and the 15-member superintendent search committee will begin interviewing the three finalists by mid-April, Murphy said, and the board hopes to choose a permanent superintendent by early May. The new superintendent will begin working July 1, she said.

Earlier this month, Murphy said, trustees met privately with the consultants. It was then that Boyd and Mullins presented the board with five finalists that they had narrowed from the field of applicants.

“The consulting firm did a very good job in narrowing the applicants down,” Murphy said. “They will be available if they are needed, but their job is basically complete.”

Twenty-three people inquired about the position, Murphy said, and 18 applied, including long-time educator Donald Oakes, who has been interim superintendent since Robert Pickett’s retirement 14 months ago. Among the 18 applicants were two people from Vicksburg, one Vicksburg native who lives out-of-state and several other people from other states, Murphy said. It’s not known whether Oakes is a finalist.

“This was a difficult task because we had some good applicants,” Murphy said after Tuesday’s meeting.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, trustees discussed applications and interviews videotaped by Boyd and Mullins. They also reviewed much of the material before Tuesday’s session, Murphy said.

The consultants’ contributions to the search process also included creating a VWSD brochure used to recruit applicants.

“This is something we did not do hastily,” she said. “We had some tough questions asked in there.”

At the Jan. 29 meeting, those who developed and support a formal Strategic Plan learned the consultants had not been given a copy of the plan. However, Murphy said the finalists selected Tuesday night will be given a copy of the plan, along with a recruiting brochure and a pamphlet from the Chamber of Commerce with information about Vicksburg.

“We’re trying to bring in someone to work with the school district,” she said.

Aasand said she believes everyone will be glad when a permanent superintendent is hired.

“Any time you have something like this, people want answers we don’t always have,” she said. “Everybody’s anxious about next year, and things will settle down.”