Second Superintendent Forum Brings Up New Issues about Hiring Process

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The second of two public forums on the Superintendent Hiring in the district was held on Thursday night. The report on the findings of the Superintendent forum will be written up and made available to the public within approximately two weeks, although the Board controls the posting logistics, said Gwen Thornton, the mediator from the NJSBA that was hired to help the Board with the hiring process. She discussed details of the process and answered questions for an audience at MHS.

At the second forum, attendees posed the following questions: Based on the first forum and the online survey forms returned so far, what were the characteristics the community (and staff?) were seeking in a new superintendent?  Thornton responded that the profile involved "great experience in running a school district, ability to use data to drive decision-making, high expectations for all students, raising the bar academically and intellectually for all students, and at the same time, providing for well-rounded education . . .  . "  She added that the profile involved "not simply academic excellence but also . . . to have children with experiences in athletics, fine arts, community service . . . [with] character, honesty, integrity-- that's what I'm hearing."

A follow-up was asked regarding hiring someone "who can stir change."  Thornton responded: "That is something that has popped up.  There is a segment of the community that wants a change agent."  She then explained that she had advised the Board that if it is going to hire a change agent, it needs to be prepared for a huge paradigm shift--there may be "a huge amount of pushback from your community, from your staff."   A change agent, Thornton said, should "do a needs assessment, figure out what is working, honor what's working . . . then work collaboratively and collegially with staff and community to make the kind of changes that are necessary."  She emphasized that change in education is "evolutionary, not revolutionary" and would not come at the speed that some people in business or Corporate America might be familiar with.  In line with her comments at the first forum, Thornton also indicated that Year One involved a learning curve, and a new superintendent who is a change agent must first establish himself or herself as the educational leader of the community.

Issues arose concerning the unanimous Board selection of a new superintendent.  Thornton explained that the best candidate(s) would not give up a tenured position in another district without support from the full Board.  That means "all nine are going to have to come to agreement"  . . . . "It doesn't mean everyone gets their first choice, it means everyone on the Board can support that candidate."

The possibility of an interim superintendent was discussed at some length.  Thornton reiterated the comments she made at the first forum about a "selection process, not a settlement."  An interim superintendent was an option open to the Board.  In response to a question about whether the time frame was unusual, Thornton said it was "within the normal range although it is aggressive."  She reiterated that the Board is "not going to settle for the wrong person."  An interim superintendent would typically be a retired superintendent.  One attendee commented about the potential independence of an interim superintendent, and Thornton indicated that was a positive factor relating to an interim-- "it does allow them sometimes to make hard decisions."  The downside, she added, was that if you have staff that is intractable, they may opt to wait out an interim. 

The Board is scheduled to hear Thornton's weighted recommendations this week as the application process has been completed. Information regarding the rest of the very speedy Hiring process calendar can be found at http://www.metuchenschools.org/metuchen/Superintendent%20Search/Superintendent%27s%20Search%20Calendar.pdf.

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