What’s desired of Monroe’s next schools leader?
Michael Whitney photo
Consultants John Bash and Kristine McDuffy (standing at right) ask the group what people want in the next superintendent of Monroe School District at a meeting Nov. 16 in the Monroe district's administration building.
MONROE — Whoever is the next leader of Monroe Schools should possess integrity, decisiveness, a collaborative spirit, and kindness, from responses given during a public focus group last week.
The search is on for a new permanent superintendent who will start in fall 2023. The school district’s current interim superintendent Marci Larsen is on a one-year contract.
The next superintendent would enter a district where parents care about their kids, Brandi Blair said. It’s a widely diverse district where one-quarter of students are Hispanic, Cindy Ladd pointed out.
Parents said the next superintendent will need to listen to and integrate the voices of the entire community for decision-making. They should appreciate the district’s alternative learning and special-needs programs and understand how large these are, parents who have children at Sky Valley Education Center said.
They will “immediately need to address bullying and racism” in schools, parent Melanie Lockhart said, “and there is pushback to this.”
And whoever it is would need to balance all these duties while working in a town that’s split 50-50 politically, a parent pointed out.
The superintendent search firm that the district hired, Hazard Young Attea and Associates, is taking public responses like these to help guide how it screens candidates and how it prepares job interview questions to mirror the community’s interests, said company representatives John Bash and Kristine McDuffy. The Nov. 16 meeting held for the general public is among the many group meetings they’ve conducted to shape the search.
McDuffy said there’s been a lot of candidates interested since the job post went live several weeks ago. The window to apply is open until Jan. 3.
Nobody has applied yet, she said Nov. 16.
The school board will do private interviews with the semi-finalists Jan. 20 to winnow down the field. On Jan. 27, there will be public interviews with the finalists.
Whoever is the next leader will need to work to make learning experiences consistent, a few parents said.
Students in the district’s seven elementary and middle schools are receiving different educations before reaching high school, Blair noted.
“There is inequity from school to school to school that will be difficult to overcome,” another attendee said.
They should strive to make teacher hirings more diverse, a parent said. About 92% of the teachers are white but about 62% of the students are, which is about 3,800 white students, according to district enrollment figures reported to the state. About 1,500 students are Hispanic.
Bash said the search firm will conduct deep background research on every applicant, including their online footprint.
The district’s last long-serving superintendent, Ken Hoover, retired in 2015. It’s on its fourth chief today. Fredrika Smith snagged another job after five years in charge; her successor Justin Blasko was placed on paid leave and later agreed to separate under terms of resignation that included a $396,000 payout.
The next leader will need to rebuild the community’s trust. “It was absolutely shattered,” Sarah Rosado said.
That will be important before the district thinks of asking for a bond measure that will require 60% of the vote, a parent said. The district’s school levy renewal passed on its second try this November with a small spread of about 700 votes. There were 18,150 voters in the district who returned ballots.
Larsen is the interim superintendent on a one-year contract. The school board selected her in July over two other finalists after commissioning a national search.
District spokeswoman Erin Zacharda said even if the board had selected someone who wanted to stay permanently, the district would still be doing a formal search for a permanent superintendent, and any interim superintendent would have to interview for the permanent position against other candidates.
State law says any permanent superintendent must live within the district’s boundaries. Larsen, as interim superintendent, does not have to adhere to this rule, McDuffy said.
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