p-superintendent-123108 Panel narrows school superintendent choices to 3 Candidates to visit Portland in January

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PORTLAND — Three candidates competing to be the next superintendent of schools will visit the city for two days in January for a second round of interviews and to explore the community.
School Committee member Sarah Thompson, who is leading the search panel, said the visits will allow the School Department to sell itself to the applicants as much as it is a chance for them to promote themselves.
Ten people applied for the job after a nationwide search. Jeanne Whynot-Vickers has been filling the post on an interim basis since Mary Jo O’Connor resigned in 2007. Whynot-Vickers did not apply for the permanent position.
The three finalists, all of whom are men, were selected from five who interviewed for the post on Dec. 15 and 16, the week after the ice storm. Thompson said the candidates took the weather in stride.
“I don’t think it phased them a bit,” she said.
Two of the three candidates still in the running are from out of state, but Thompson declined to disclose their home states or even their region, because the district has promised anonymity to the candidates, who currently hold superintendent positions.
“They all have various backgrounds and ties to Portland,” Thompson said.
Thompson said interviewers would be paying close attention to each candidate’s experience with budgets and finance, and whether the candidate can effectively communicate with school staff, the School Committee and, more importantly, with the community.
The new superintendent will have to not only deal with a tightening budget and a skeptical public, but will also have to come up with a plan to restore curriculum lost in recent years while modernizing the district’s technological capabilities.
“We need someone who is innovative – a visionary,” Thompson said. “Education is continually changing. We need to keep moving forward technology-wise and curriculum-wise.”
Another criteria fior the candidates is whether they have experienced the type of diversity that exists in Portland. Thompson said all three candidates either come from a diverse district or have actively sought out diverse experiences.
She said the candidates in mid-January will interview once with the entire search panel, which includes the School Committee, in addition to a private interviews with School Committee members. Then the candidates will be given a guided tour of the city and school district.
Thompson said two or three representatives from Portland would likely visit the home school districts of two or possibly all three candidates. The district has budgeted $10,000 for site visits.
After site visits are complete, the committee will negotiate with it’s top choice. Thompson said she hopes an employment agreement will be reached in late February.
At that point, the new superintendent will be introduced to the community, she said.
Thompson said the national average for a superintendent to stay in a district is only three years.
“We would be happy, of course, if they were doing a good job, to stay longer, but we’re not going to kid ourselves,” she said. “It’s a tough position, especially in Portland. You’re under the microscope.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.