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Superintendent search for Ashland schools enters next phase

Ashland has spoken, and its ideal superintendent should have extensive teaching experience at multiple levels, be willing to build collaborative working relationships with staff, parents and community and always put kids first.

Those qualities and a host of others were highlighted as part of an extensive “desired candidate profile” presented to the school board by NextUp Leadership, the search firm hired by the district to lead the search for its next superintendent. NextUp search consultant Greg McKenzie said Wednesday he hopes to complete the search by spring break, which begins March 24.

“It will be mid to late March when we have that last round of interviews,” he said.

The district is seeking a long term replacement for Jay Hummel, who resigned effective June 30 following a three-year run as head of the district. Suzanne Cusick was hired last spring as interim superintendent for the 2016-17 school year in order to give the district time to conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement.

One of the first steps in the search called for stakeholders — teachers and staff, administrators, parents and community members — to identify the district’s strengths, weaknesses, priorities and “personal profile characteristics,” all of which will be used to “create various elements of the search literature, develop screening criteria and formulate questions for interviews,” according to a memorandum NextUp has presented to the school board.

To collect that data, NextUp between Oct. 3 and Nov. 4 led focus groups with staff, students, parents, community leaders and the community at large, and distributed an online questionnaire. According to NextUp, 111 people took part in the individual interviews and focus groups and another 373 filled out the online survey.

“The participation was excellent,” said McKenzie, who along with fellow search consultant Cec Amuchastegui presented NextUp’s findings to the school board in November. “We had a substantial number of people who showed up in our face-to-face meetings and we also had more than expected numbers show up with our online questionnaire, so we were very pleased.”

NextUp distributed the raw data from the survey and focus groups to the school board and also presented a form, adopted by the board, which laid out criteria, candidate profile and characteristics to be used in the search. The two-page form was broken down into five subcategories: Who are We?, What’s next for District?, Minimum Job Requirements, Preferred Leadership Skills, and Desired Candidate Profile.

NextUP recommended advertising a base salary range of $135,000 to $150,000 per year.

“Without a healthy upper end we’re in danger,” Board Chairman Jim Westrick said during a Nov. 14 school board meeting. “Ashland is a very unique place and, especially for what we’re looking for, we want to make sure that we’re attracting the right candidates.”

Under the “What’s Next for District?” section of NextUp’s report, six topics were bulleted, including finding a way to lower class sizes, continuing efforts to provide more opportunities in CTE (Career Technical Education) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and developing a long range plan for facilities improvement.

In a summary report of the online survey, “smaller class sizes” emerged as the “runaway winner” in the “Challenges” section.

The next step, says McKenzie, is for the district to assemble a screening committee while NextUp prepares the paperwork that must be completed before the job is posted in early January. Ideally, he said, the screening committee, which will help review the applications, will consist of 15 to 20 people from a variety of stakeholder groups. NextUp included a suggested breakdown in its report: two to three administrators, four to five teachers, three to four classified staff and five to six parents/community members/business leaders.

“On our side of the search, we are preparing the literature,” McKenzie said. “There are numerous documents that have to be prepared. Not just preparing a brochure, but there’s a vacancy announcement, there’s advertisement, there’s a whole host of things that come out of the material that was presented in that (report). So we are in the process of assembling that now. Sometime around the first of the year, we’ll actually start advertising the position, which means that we’ll post it on job boards on various places online and be prepared to receive applications.”

— 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.