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Grants Pass school board to hire superintendent search firm

Kirk Kolb was headed for a three-year contract extension with District 7 until outside issues got in the way of formal approval, board members say

On Tuesday, the Grants Pass School District 7 Board of Education will discuss hiring a search firm to help select the district’s next superintendent after Kirk Kolb announced to constituents earlier this month he would not seek an extension of his contract.

The board will meet virtually at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, due to the number of COVID-19 cases in Josephine County.

According to documents found on the board’s website, a request for proposals from search firms explaining their qualifications for hiring a superintendent is due to the board secretary no later than 4 p.m. Nov. 10. The board is expected to make its selection on a firm that same month.

“We want to get as many qualified candidates as we can and find the one that best fits the vision of the district,” Scott Nelson, chairman of Grants Pass’ Board of Education, said. “The most important thing the board does is hire a superintendent. The board will take this process very seriously and look for a good search firm to help us and walk us through that process.”

That firm will be expected to work rather quickly, since it could begin its work as early as late November and finish the following March.

Kolb became superintendent in 2015, when he was the district's director of technology and instructional improvement. The decision not to extend his contract caps a 20-year career with Grants Pass in which he’s had the title of coach, teacher and principal, to name a few.

Kolb used the letter to tout accomplishments, like having the district’s highest graduation rates and lowest number of dropouts. He also noted how he has tried to keep the “socio-political issues that are dividing our country” out of the classroom, but has found it “has been a nearly impossible feat.”

Equally challenging, in Kolb’s view, is his relationship with his boss, the board of education. Even though members voted 6-1 in March to extend his contract for three years, “continued discussion by the board has resulted in not taking action to do so,” he wrote.

“It is evident that the board is divided on this matter and I feel it is in both my own best interest, and the board’s best interest, that I not seek an extension of my current contract but continue to fulfill the obligations of my current contract,” Kolb wrote.

His current contract runs through June 30, 2022.

Kolb indicated that he would like the board to consider him for another leadership position, but he did not specify what that role would be.

Kolb did not want to make any comments beyond what he said in the letter, his district’s communications specialist, Kristin Hosfelt, told the Mail Tribune on Monday.

The Mail Tribune reached out to all of the board members, so it was difficult to confirm the division among members Kolb referred to in his letter. Some members declined comment to the newspaper, while others, like Gary Richardson, weighed in.

“After that [contract extension], a number of things happened involving the District Office and the Board,” he wrote in an email. “Since then, my position was that we should wait until those items had been addressed before signing a three year contract extension.”

In a phone interview, Richardson referred to what he called “fairly significant upheaval” with some employees in the district. Those things included dealing with the coronavirus vaccine mandate and a termination hearing of two educators involved with the “I Resolve” campaign — not to mention getting kids back to school during a pandemic.

Richardson noted that a contract extension is created not simply a vote — it is a multi-step process involving the creation of the actual document.

Nelson noted the superintendent’s contract was decadesold, so it needed to be revised with the help of attorneys. Those discussions occurred late spring and early summer.

“The board needed to accept that contract,” he said. “That’s where the process stalled.”

Nelson added, “there was just enough consternation among the board members about the contract that they felt like they wanted to give it more time and let these other issues in the district settle down before we move forward.”

By June, three months after the board voted on Kolb’s extension, the issues Richardson and Nelson spoke about were coming to a climax.

“It just didn’t really look like a good time to come out publicly and say, ‘hey, we’re giving the superintendent a new three-year contract,’” Richardson said. “We’re still dealing with those multiple issues.”

Nelson praised Kolb’s leadership and his thoughtful remarks in his letter and about the time being right to step down.

“I emphasize with him. I understand his need to want to be with his family and maybe have a little less stress in his life,” Nelson said. “I support his decision if that’s the decision he wants to make. We’re excited for Kirk to do something that will make him happier.”

Richardson went out of his way to praise Kolb, but did not respond to the superintendent’s inquiry about having another leadership role.

“Kirk has done an outstanding job in a number of positions in the district, which is why he ultimately got elevated to the superintendent position,” Richardson said. “He started a number of initiatives in the district that have been beneficial. Kirk is a good guy. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Nelson was noncommittal when it came to Kolb serving in another position within the district.

“I don’t know. We’ll have to see what Kirk would like to do and we’ll have to talk with the new superintendent,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions.”