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On a tight schedule

You could call it superintendent speed dating.

The three finalists being considered to be Ashland School District's next superintendent spent Friday separately touring classrooms, quads and cafeterias. They met the principals of seven schools, and said hello to rushed parents and children bogged down by backpacks.

The candidates, all from out of state, are in Ashland for two days to meet and greet and be interviewed one more time before a decision is made on who will replace Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, who is retiring after 13 years on the job.

They are vying for a position that oversees nearly 2,750 students, approximately 300 full-time and part-time teachers, support staff and administrators, and has a total budget for 2012-13 of $43.9 million.

The salary for the new superintendent ranges from $120,000 to $135,000, according to Ashland School Board Chairwoman Carol Davis.

The finalists already have survived a rigorous application process, screening, interviews, reference checks and a visit by Davis and board member Jim Westrick to their school districts.

In Ashland on Friday, they were given a unique itinerary — their paths didn't cross — and were escorted to their 10 appointments by a member of the school board.

At 8 a.m., finalist Gary Plano was shaking hands with Walker Elementary School Principal Patty Michiels outside her office.

Throughout the day, Michiels wanted each of the finalists to discover that teachers design curriculum collaboratively at each grade level.

Plano was introduced to the elementary math curriculum in action as students used technology to show the thinking behind problem solving. He also spoke with the special education teacher Joanne Cyphers, who explained how the staff meets the needs of students with learning disabilities.

Inside Heidi Heidig's fifth-grade classroom, he listened as students heard the academic lineup for the day and that veggie wraps would be served for lunch.

Plano, who has a doctor of education degree from Seton Hall University, has been the superintendent since 2007 of Washington state's Mercer Island School District, which has about 4,200 kindergarten through 12th-grade students, a staff of 495 and an annual budget of about $48.5 million, according to the district's website.

He plans to retire in Ashland, whether he receives the job or not, and has already built a home here.

While walking the school hallway, he said, "Kids are kids, no matter where they live."

At 9 a.m., Ashland High School Principal Michelle Zundel was leading finalist Debra Spring Munk on a whirlwind tour. In 45 minutes, candidates visited a handful of classrooms where subjects from English to fiber arts were being taught.

In Karen Green's Food II class, students were making red velvet cupcakes. "The breakfast of champions," joked Zundel. She and Munk then continued on to Laura Davidson's sewing class, where students were cutting squares for a collective quilt.

There was also a brief stop to meet journalists at the Rogue News classroom and a quick pass by Athletic Director Karl Kemper. Munk asked him about that night's basketball game, showing she had done her homework.

Munk, who has 22 years of administrative and classroom experience, has been the principal of Rockville High School in Maryland since 2005. Her school has 1,280 students and 170 staff members, according to her resume. She did not state the annual budget.

"This has been a wonderful experience observing all the good work being done here in Ashland," said Munk. "Regardless of the outcome of my visit, I have learned a great deal from the people working hard for the children of Ashland."

At 10 a.m., finalist William McCoy was greeting Willow Wind Community Learning Center Principal Debra Schaeffer Pew inside the school, which serves children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Pew showed McCoy the computer classroom and then took him outside to introduce him to students studying the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. On a lawn, students of all ages were slowly practicing tai chi moves with teacher Zhenyao Qi.

"This is so Ashland," said John Williams, a member of the school board who was escorting McCoy for the day. McCoy then spoke to seventh-grade student Enya Cochran and turned away smiling.

McCoy, who has a master's in education from Nova Southeastern University, has been the superintendent of Red Bluff Union Elementary School District in California since 2009. He oversees four elementary schools with enrollment of 2,139 students, 250 employees and an annual budget of $15 million, according to his resume.

"I am incredibly impressed with the gift of an outstanding education that the district and community are providing children," said McCoy. "As an educator and as a parent, I hope to be part of this very special place."

The three finalists also met individually with Di Chiro, Director of Fiscal Services Greg Lecuyer and Director of Student Services Samuel Bogdanove.

Around 5 p.m, they had a short break, and then they were taken out to dinner at three different Ashland restaurants.

Today, committees composed of community members, parents and staff will have opportunities to interview the candidates and then the board will conduct final interviews. The board will vote on Monday, Feb. 18.

The selection will be announced the week of Feb. 25.

Later, Plano said the day allowed the school community to learn more about him and for him to get to know them.

"Ashland is fortunate to have such a dedicated and committed staff teaching exceptional children," he said.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.