Education

Will Wake County schools name the finalists for superintendent?

The Wake County Board of Education is searching for a superintendent to succeed Jim Merrill, left, who retired Feb. 1.
The Wake County Board of Education is searching for a superintendent to succeed Jim Merrill, left, who retired Feb. 1. 2015 N&O File Photo

The Wake County school board is searching for a superintendent at the same time Wake commissioners are seeking a county manager.

Will their approaches be similar? Probably not.

Wake commissioners have revealed the names of the three finalists for county manager and even introduced them to the public during a meet-and-greet last week.

The school board might not do that.

The board has not made that call, but “our intent right now is that we would just name the superintendent,” and not the finalists, school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said Wednesday.

In 2013, when the school board hired Jim Merrill, it named the three finalists for superintendent. The private firm that conducted the search said naming the finalists and having them meet with the public would make the process more transparent and lead to greater public support when the board made its choice.

Johnson-Hostler said the board had brought that transparency to the front end of the latest search, seeking community input before it begins interviewing candidates. She’s confident that process will produce a hire who meets at least most of the community’s expectations.

“As a district, we’re being transparent,” Johnson-Hostler said. “We’re engaging with the community.”

Wake County has received 20 applications for superintendent, the school system said in a news release Tuesday.

But the release divulges little about the candidates, saying only that “the applicants are from 10 different states” and “the majority have experience as a superintendent.”

At the moment, the applications are in the hands of the N.C. School Boards Association, which is conducting Wake’s superintendent search. Next up, after receiving the applications on Feb. 9, Wake school board members will review them individually before meeting later in the month to decide which candidates to interview.

At a work session on Tuesday, board member Jim Martin suggested school leaders place the applications in one of three buckets after reviewing them: “Yes, maybe, no.”

“I like the bucket idea,” Johnson-Hostler said.

For the most part, Wake school leaders already know the qualities they want in their next superintendent.

With the community’s help, they laid those characteristics out earlier in their superintendent search, which began after Merrill announced in November that he would retire Feb. 1.

The expectations, laid out in a two-page document, are already online. On Tuesday, school board members discussed – even fretted about – how best to present their expectations to the people who have applied.

Board member Kathy Hartenstine, for one, feared the document lacked polish. “It reads, to me, like a draft,” she said.

It wasn’t meant to be much more than that, said Tanya Giovanni of the N.C. School Boards Association. “It’s just various thoughts,” she said. “These are characteristics that individual board members stated.”

“It just gives them (the applicants) an idea,” she said.

Among other things, the next Wake superintendent:

▪  Values employees.

▪  Listens to teachers.

▪  Is visible in the schools and community at large.

▪  Personally connects to and communicates well with staff, students and the community.

In some cases, board members wondered whether the document was detailed enough. The list, for example, talks broadly about meeting student needs. But perhaps it needs to be more specific, Hartenstine said. “I would like to see a candidate who has experience with advanced students, gifted students,” she said.

Hartenstine said she would also like a superintendent “who holds people accountable, holds the board accountable, holds himself accountable, the staff accountable.”

Martin wondered whether some language in the document was misleading. “I do wonder about the ‘rock the boat’ language,” he said.

The board’s bullet list says the next superintendent “will not ‘rock the board’ with respect to curriculum and instruction.”

Martin said he didn’t want applicants to think the board was resistant to change. “It’s not like we’re afraid to change,” he said. “We want to be moving forward.”

Giovanni said she could polish the document before sending it to applicants.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack

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