‘Visible’ boss for schools sought

Published 12:14 pm Thursday, May 27, 2010

Principals, teachers, staff and students in the Vicksburg Warren School District hope to see a new superintendent who is visible and actively involved in school affairs, a recruitment firm contracted to facilitate the search for a new district chief has been told.

Dr. Gerald Keller, consultant for Omaha-based McPherson and Jacobson, met with district trustees Wednesday to report what the search firm was told May 20 in a day of meetings with stakeholder groups.

One consensus was that the new superintendent should visit schools and classrooms, attend athletic events and other activities and promote a positive image of the district. Some of the problems the new leader will face were also detailed.

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“None of that is new to any of us,” said trustee Jerry Boland after Keller’s presentation. “I think all of us have heard these things before.”

Separate meetings were held with administrators, certified staff, noncertified staff, student council members from both Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools, the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and a group of parents and community members, conducted by Keller and another of the firm’s consultants, Loe Dunn.

“All the groups said the people of this area were really the strength of this community,” Keller said. “They cited good students, good administrators and good teachers” and a well-educated and diverse population.

The groups also were asked to identify problem areas and issues in the local schools.

High absenteeism among students and teachers was cited, as well as a lack of enforcement of such rules as cell phone use and uneven, inconsistent student discipline, some of which was said to create teacher burnout and foster early retirements.

Loss of faculty through attrition is an issue the new superintendent will face, administrators said — the comment reflecting the district’s loss of 88 certified and non-certified positions since 2008, largely due to cuts in state funding.

State tests were an issue for all groups, with students reporting that they increase the dropout rate. Teachers said benchmark tests, given weekly as preparation for the high-stakes, end-of-year tests, prevent expanding the curriculum.

“This was just what was passed on to us,” Keller emphasized. “We are not here to critique or referee.”

Superintendent Dr. James Price, 58, the district’s fifth since the 1987 consolidation of city and county schools, announced in March that he would retire June 30.

McPherson and Jacobson is concluding the second of its five-phased process to assist trustees in hiring Price’s replacement. The firm was hired after a split vote by the board April 30. The fee, $16,500, includes a provision to repeat the search at no additional cost if a candidate is hired and does not serve out his or her initial contract.

The company is advertising the position nationally and will accept applications until June 11. Its consultants will conduct background, reference and credential checks and assist the board in the interview process.

At a work session May 13, trustees set a salary range of $110,000 to $140,000 for the new head of the district which encompasses 15 schools educating about 9,000 students on an annual budget of about $80 million.

Board members have said they would like to place a new superintendent by the first weeks of the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

A slate of candidates will be reviewed June 29 to come up with finalists for the position.

Interviews will be scheduled between July 19 and 22, Dunn said Wednesday, and the new superintendent named July 23. The first day of school is Aug. 5.

Should acceptable candidates not be identified by June 29, trustees will look at appointing an interim superintendent and extending the search process into the fall.