Yazoo City school officials kicked off the school district's search for a new superintendent Thursday with a presentation from Dr. Mike Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Board Association (MSBA). Members of the school board will meet at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20, to discuss criteria used in the search and other school district matters.
Of three options, the school board has chosen the $4,500 contract, which will share the mechanics of the search with the MSBA. The cost of getting the MSBA to do everything in the search would have cost approximately twice that amount.
“In this contract, the board assumes more of the responsibility,” Waldrop said. “We help you get everything organized, and then we do background (checks) on these candidates and we give you professional judgement on it, but basically, y'all take a larger role in the selection of the candidate under this (contract).”
Waldrop said that one of the school board's responsibilities will be to establish a criteria. He indicated that the school board could use the criteria that was used in the last search. Waldrop distributed brochures the school district used in the last superintendent search, and indicated that the brochures could be used in the present search with a little tweaking.
“When you start interviewing a superintendent candidate, you want to be sure you determine what you want in a superintendent and then develop your interview questions around finding that out,” he said. “Part of what we do, we will help you structure your interview questions.”
In discussing the time line for the search, Waldrop suggested posting the announcement of the search on Jan. 11 or 12, 2016. Were the announcement posted before Christmas, he speculated that it would get lost in the Christmas shuffle. The search would close about Feb. 15, and the school board will receive a report from MSBA some time in mid-March.
“Y'all would determine who you want to interview, and that will give you plenty of time to make your selection by April 1,” Waldrop explained. “And if it goes over a little bit, you could easily push it over to May 1 if you need more time.”
He said the MSBA will receive all the information from the candidates, but will not interview the candidates. The school board will receive the resumes and the applications from all the candidates. The responsibility of the interview lies with the school board. Waldrop said the MSBA will contact each candidate's previous places of employment and report the findings to the school board.
Trustee Lula Starling said her only concern about his suggested time line is the deadline.
“We know that superintendents usually sign contracts for the following year in February,” Starling said. “If we push that deadline that you've given us, that to me is indicating that all good superintendents are going to be taken ….”
With 70 superintendent searches under their belt, Waldrop said the MSBA has not seen that the time line would present a problem.
“If a good principal applies, (school) districts let them go because it's a step up,” Waldrop said, adding that “it isn't an exact science.”
“Y'all have plenty of time, and I don't think you need to rush into it,” he added.
Waldrop said the school board would need to decide whether to have community meetings.
“You can do community input in one of two ways,” he said. “You can have the community involved before you've developed the criteria …, or you can go ahead and put the criteria you used last time, and then, while the search is open, have your community meetings, and when you start interviewing the candidates, take into consideration what (the community) has told you at that time. You're still involving your community. They're still telling you what they want.”
The school board also will have to decide how the community will be involved, including whether the community will be allowed to participate in the interview process. The school board can legally conduct the interviews behind closed doors.
“If you decide to have public participation in the interview, I would not recommend that you have community people ask questions to candidates,” Waldrop said. “If you want to have community input on the interview process, I would interview the candidates, have your community (located in the room) and we could provide you with a score sheet where the community can rate the candidates as (the school board) interviews them.”
The rating sheets would then be turned in to the board, which the board would take into consideration when the candidate is selected.
“You interview (the candidates). Then, the public gives you the rating sheets and when (the board) starts discussing the candidates, you'll also have time to look at how the public feels about the candidates,” he said.
Waldrop stressed that if the school board allows the public to ask questions during the interview process, “you're going to find that it's going to lay layers and layers of complication to it because you have been selected to make that decision. The more people in the community who try to help you with that, the more layers of complication you're going to have.”
Waldrop said not many school districts elect to interview the candidates in public. Ninety percent of the school districts interview in private, but the few that chose to interview the candidates in public had no problems when they followed the MSBA process.
“But you need to be aware that when you interview candidates and the public is (present), this is a board meeting and if the public disrupts in any way, you're going to have to be prepared to remove (the disrupting individuals),” he said. “The worst thing you could do is to bring a candidate in here and have a community person disrupt this meeting. That would really throw a monkey wrench into this whole thing, and you would probably see candidates withdraw their names from consideration.”
He also said members of the community could submit questions to be asked of the candidates to the school board. The trustees could then ask those questions during the interview process.
Waldrop presented samples of brochures the board could use in the search. The school board will have to decide if a brochure will be used.
In addition to the $4,500 fee charged by the MSBA, the only other cost in the search will be for advertising. Waldrop recommended that school board advertise information involved in the search in The Yazoo Herald.
Waldrop stressed the importance of an additional service provided by the MSBA, which is provided at no additional cost.
“Once you get a superintendent seated, I will come in and do a three-hour workshop with you on transitioning to this person,” he said. “A lot of the problems that boards have that keep districts from moving forward academically are board-governance structural problems. You want to be sure that you start off properly. Only about one in four school districts that we do searches for take advantage of this. They think when they have a superintendent they have arrived. That's the beginning when you get (a superintendent); not the end game, and how you structure as a board and superintendent is going to be critical to your success, and it's also going to be critical to how long you keep that superintendent.”
At the conclusion of his presentation and as school board attorney Briggs Hopson spoke about the board's examination of the contract, Waldrop said, “the contract is public information.”