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Ashland to hire interim superintendent

The Ashland School District has decided to replace outgoing Superintendent Jay Hummel with an interim superintendent for the 2016-17 school year in order to conduct a more thorough search for a permanent successor, the school board has announced.

The decision came days after the board hosted two community input meetings last week, during which Ashlanders were invited to share qualities they would like to see in the next superintendent.

The consensus, board Chairman Jim Westrick said, was that the decision was simply too important to try to squeeze into a tight time frame — Hummel’s last day is June 30, with his replacement due to start July 1. Hummel announced his intention to resign on March 3.

“We looked at the calendar and how much time we have to make a decision,” Westrick said, “and we looked at our personal calendars because it takes an enormous amount of time for the school board and for other district people, and the thing we heard over and over again in our two community outreach meetings that we had — and meetings with staff and teachers and other district personnel – is 'don’t rush it. This is too important to rush. Take your time.'

“That really resonated with us, and we want to make sure that we have the time to make a really thoughtful, well considered choice.”

Board Vice-chairman Eva Skuratowicz agreed.

“We work hard to make sure that we have input from all the stakeholders and a deliberate and thoughtful process,” she said. “And we want to make sure that we get the best superintendent for our community. Having had recent experience on my part choosing a superintendent I just feel, and the other board members concur, that we don’t have the time to do the type of search that we need to do for Ashland.”

To help find possible interim candidates, the board has turned to the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA), which provides a free service to help districts track down those who qualify and are willing to serve on an interim basis. The procedure, while still thorough, is still far less involved than a full-scale search, which requires several rounds of interviews and on-site shadowing.

The board hopes to begin reviewing resumes in about two weeks and start the interview process the first week of April. The job will be posted in the coming days, and the district will set a cap on how long it will accept applications. Westrick estimated an application window of 10 days.

“The sooner the better,” Westrick said, “because I think the sooner we know who the person is the more time that person will have to get to know our district and everything going on.”

The OSBA keeps a database of those who qualify for such positions and are willing to take a job on an interim basis. Having access to that database should help speed up the process, Westrick said.

“Some of them are retired superintendents who maybe retired early and feel like, great, they know what they’re doing,” Westrick said. “And that’s the big thing. I really want someone who can hit the ground running, who understands Oregon finance, who understands Oregon education law, all those kinds of things.”

“That person’s just going to steer the ship for a year,” Skuratowicz added.

The OSBA’s role does not go beyond providing the district access to its database. In the end, the board will decide who will succeed Hummel, who is leaving after three years as superintendent.

“The people who make the decision are the same as always, and that is the school board,” Westrick said. “We take input — we already have — from the community, from staff, from administrators, from teachers, but it ultimately is the school board which decides who this interim superintendent will be.”

Westrick estimated that about 20 people came to the community input meetings, held March 8 at Walker Elementary and March 10 at Ashland High School.

That number may seem low, but it’s higher than the number of people who turned out for a similar gathering prior to Hummel’s hiring.

To Westrick, that’s a good sign.

“I think people are feeling like, wow, everything is going well,” he said. “They’re happy with their schools, we have an outstanding school system and so there’s not that urge necessarily. If people felt that we were in crisis, perhaps, I think we might get a large turnout, but there’s not that feeling at all. And the big reason, and I truly believe this, we have such outstanding teachers, we have such strong leadership in our principals and our assistant principals and our district leadership, that we are in a really good place. And so the idea of an interim superintendent really doesn’t scare anybody. I have heard absolutely nothing but positive comments from people in the past four or five days, saying what a good choice.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.