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Jeffco School Board hears superintendent search survey results

The Jeffco School Board heard a report on the results of the community forums and online superintendent survey at the April 3 meeting.meeting.
The Jeffco School Board heard a report on the results of the community forums and online superintendent survey at the April 3 meeting.meeting.
Lisa Cook

Search firm Ray and Associates began actively recruiting a new superintendent for Jeffco Schools last weekend after the Jeffco School Board heard the results of the online superintendent survey and from community forums. Bill Newman, Ray and Associates National Executive Director, outlined the top themes heard from groups as the board prioritized the qualities they seek in a new superintendent.

The information had been gathered from forums with multiple community groups and an online survey that asked participants to mark the 10 of 33 characteristics they believe are most important for the new superintendent to have. The forums involved employees, parents, community leaders and the community in general.

Newman identified 10 themes heard across community groups and in the surveys. The first theme Newman identified was that the district has a reputation for success, a great staff, and an interested and involved public.

Another theme was that the community wants an experienced educator — one who has worked at a high level in a school district previously — and has great school finance skills, Newman said. A traditional candidate was preferred to a hybrid one by the community.

Great communication skills were also mentioned repeatedly, with an emphasis on a candidate who can speak to any level, and who also can listen, Newman said. “We do not need a change agent just for the sake of change,” was a theme he heard often, he said.

The community wants a new superintendent also should have a track record of being a team builder, especially focused in addressing staff morale, and who can rebuild trust in the superintendent position and the school board, Newman said. In addition, many in the community voiced the hope that the board will come to a unanimous decision.

One area of contention during the following board discussion concerned the board’s prioritization of a hybrid or nontraditional candidate. Board members ranked this a third in their priorities, whereas the Jeffco Schools community ranked it 30 out of 33 on the survey.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman raised concern about how the hybrid candidate issue was addressed in a proposed recruitment flyer. The flyer stated “Jeffco Schools Seeks a Superintendent Who…” and was followed by a number of bullet points, including one that stated “is a non-traditional or ‘hybrid candidate’ with background in the military or business community in addition to an educational career.”

“I think it’s so important that we focus on track record, effectiveness, increasing student achievement, closing the gap, meeting goals,” said board member Lesley Dahlkemper, who emphasized that any candidate’s track record is much more important than whether they have a traditional or hybrid background.

“We want good candidates,” said board member Jill Fellman, who also favored modifying or removing that bullet point. “We don’t want to say, 'ok, you need not apply.' We want to make sure we’re very inclusive and we get the best candidates possible.”

Dahlkemper suggested changing the wording about a hybrid candidate to “a demonstrated track record of increasing student achievement, reflecting either a traditional or non-traditional background.”

Newman said there were a lot of comments that urged the school board to consider candidates who had spent at least 10 years in the classroom. He also noted that many successful superintendents hadn’t done that.

“The market right now is pretty low on people who have a lifetime or half of their career dedicated to classroom teaching,” Newman said, in part because they’d moved into the administration as an assistant principal or principal earlier in their careers.

Newman suggested modifying the bullet point to read “May be a non-traditional or ‘hybrid candidate,’ and the board agreed to adopt that wording for the flyer.

Another point of contention focused on whether wording about cultural diversity should be included in the list of priorities. Fellman and Dahlkemper argued for including it given the amount of diversity among Jeffco students.

“I’m not interested in bringing the cultural diversity up into the requirements, Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt said. “We need to maintain some focus.” “I don’t think we have to call it out that we will include every student. I think that’s an expectation.”

Board member Julie Williams told the board she wanted two more weeks to consider the information before making a decision about priorities. A compromise was made to move ahead with the process but have another meeting to adjust priorities and modify the flyer if needed.

Williams also suggested moving all the deadlines by two weeks, but was told that doing so would require moving everything on the timeline by two weeks.

Witt said the board would move forward and possibly consider schedule adjustments at the next meeting.

Ray and Associates distributed the flyer to recruit candidates at the National School Board Association annual conference April 5 - 7.

The flyer is also available as part of the Jeffco Schools superintendent job description as advertised in the Ray and Associates website.

The Jeffco Schools superintendent survey garnered the highest rate of completed surveys that Ray and Associates has seen in a search, Newman said, with more than 3000 surveys returned. That is nearly double the previous record, he said.

In addition, there were more than 1200 comments people had included with the surveys. Newman said the comments echoed many of the same themes heard in the forums.