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Ashland narrows superintendent search to three finalists

The Ashland School District announced the names Monday of three finalists still in the running to become its next superintendent.

Each of the women will be here Wednesday for a battery of meet-and-greets, a community forum and final interviews with the school board.

The finalists are Alicia Henderson, superintendent of Bellevue Union School District in Santa Rosa, California; Vivienne Paratore, an elementary principal in Castro Valley Unified School District in Castro Valley, California; and Kelly Raymond, executive director for instructional leadership in Highline School District in Burien, Washington.

The announcement came 13 days after the district reported it had narrowed its search from 52 applicants — the largest pool ever seen by search firm NextUp Leadership — to 11.

“We interviewed the 11 candidates last week and so that took a good chunk of the day Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then Friday the board spent nearly all day trying to figuring out which of those 11 would be finalists,” Ashland school board chairman Jim Westrick said. “They were such a strong group of candidates. It’s a good problem to have when you have so many great candidates to choose from. But we met at 10:30 and we didn’t leave here until well after 3.”

Another district is presumably also excited about two of those finalists. The Daily World of Aberdeen, Washington, reported Friday that Henderson and Raymond are two of four finalists gunning for the superintendent job in the Aberdeen School District. According to The Daily World, the finalists for that job will visit Aberdeen Thursday or Friday.

Ashlanders will have a chance to meet the candidates at Wednesday’s community forum, during which Henderson, Paratore and Raymond are scheduled to take the podium for 30 minutes each. The forum is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the Ashland High School interactive video center, and community members on hand will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about each candidate’s performance. Their answers will be factored in to the district’s final decision.

“They will be encouraged to give the board feedback,” Westrick said. “NextUp will have forms there that people can complete — it’s all confidential, it comes directly to the board and we look at those as we consider it.”

Westrick said Wednesday’s community forum is open to the public, and he encouraged people to attend. The high school’s interactive video center room holds at least 50 people, he said, and the board is hoping to fill it up.

Following the forum, each candidate will interviewed by the board.

“The five board members sit with each candidate one at a time for about an hour, and we can really go into more depth," Westrick said. "Now that they’ve had a chance to see the district, they’ll have better questions for us, and after calling references we’ll have better questions for them. So really it’s a great opportunity to dig deeper and learn a whole lot more about each other.”

After the day is complete, the board will take a few days to decide to who will be offered a job that has been handled since July by interim Superintendent Suzanne Cusick. An announcement will likely be made within a week.

Only one of the candidates, Henderson, has experience as a superintendent. Henderson has served as the superintendent of the Bellevue Union School District, which has 1,900 students (Ashland has about 3,000), since 2012, and also has served as assistant superintendent and director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Franklin-McKinley School District, a 10,000-student district in San Jose, California. Henderson, who was named the California Region 4 Superintendent of the Year for 2017, also has been a principal at both the elementary and middle school levels.

Paratore has been an elementary principal for the last two years in the 9,000-student Castro Valley Unified School District. She previously served as an elementary and high school principal in the Fremont Unified School District in Fremont, California. A former Principal of the Year (2004), Paratore’s teaching experience includes five years as a high school English teacher.

Raymond has been executive director for instructional leadership in the Highline School District, which has about 19,600 students, since 2014. Prior to her current job, Raymond, who received her Master’s of Education from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, was a high school principal for Technology Engineering Communications High School in Tacoma, Washington. Raymond also has 11 years of teaching experience in Australia and Japan.

— 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.