RSU 5 fast-tracks hiring of new superintendent

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FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors is forming a search committee with the goal of hiring a new superintendent of schools by March 2015.

The board on Dec. 10 met with consultant Ron Barker to discuss the role of a search committee and a schedule for the search process. Applications for a new superintendent are due by Dec. 30, someone should be hired in March, and that person will start July 1, 2015.

The search committee will consist of 12 voting members and Barker. There will be three teachers, three parents or community members, three administrators, and three board members. Each group of three will include one person from each town in the RSU: Freeport, Durham and Pownal.

Beth Parker of Freeport, Candace Decsipkes of Durham, and Naomi Ledbetter of Pownal will be the board representatives. The nine other spots have yet to be filled; in some cases, no one has stepped forward and in others, too many have volunteered. The board decided it will hold a lottery to select those members.

Barker, who has conducted more than 200 superintendent searches, said the role of the search committee will be to eliminate applicants who aren’t right for the job and to present qualified applicants to the board.

“The job of the search committee is not to select the superintendent, but is simply to screen the applicants to decide who they want to bring forward to the board,” he said.

The search committee will have its first meeting Jan. 6, 2015, to begin reviewing applications. The committee will then select applicants for screening interviews that will be held Jan. 21 and 22. The search committee will then have a Jan. 28 executive session with the School Board.

“The search committee’s role will be to outline for (the board) strengths and weaknesses, as they see it, in the candidates to give you as much information as you can get so that your decision can be a little easier for you,” Barker told the board.

The board will then interview candidates, with tentative dates set for Feb. 4 and 5. After checking references, the candidates will be narrowed to one or two finalists on Feb. 11.

“I like to have two (finalists), because … you have to select a candidate, but a candidate has to select you as well,” Barker said.

The finalists will then visit the district and tour schools privately while students are on February vacation. The board will then have a little over a week to think through the decision before selecting someone March 11.

The next two weeks will then be spent working out a contract and deciding upon salary and benefits, as well as the length of the contract. Barker said it can be anywhere from one to five years, although he recommends three.

The board will then hold a public meeting to officially announce the hiring of a new superintendent.

Advertising for the position has already started and Barker said applications have been coming in. He has also been recruiting candidates for the position. He said it is important to move quickly and stick to the schedule because other schools in the area are also searching for superintendents.

“If we drag our feet too much we’re likely to get some of the same candidates,” Barker said. “We’re going to be in direct competition with some of those schools.”

To get a better sense of what the RSU 5 schools and communities are looking for in a superintendent, Barker held focus group meetings from Dec. 10-18. Each meeting was for a different group of people, including teachers and staff from each school, school administrators, high school students, parents and community members, and the School Board.

Each meeting focused on four things: what makes RSU 5 unique, RSU 5’s strengths, priority areas for the superintendent, and what won’t work in RSU 5. Also, the people at each meeting were given a list of 13 attributes that make a good superintendent and asked to choose the four they thought are most important.

Barker said he will provide a summary of the focus group findings. He will use the information to help the board and search committee develop questions to ask candidates.

“You need to value what the people in your three towns, and your employees, have said by asking those kinds of questions during the interviews,” Barker said.

Barker has worked in public education for more than 47 years. He worked in Yarmouth for 18 years as a teacher, principal, and interim superintendent. He then worked for 10 years as a superintendent for the Bonny Eagle school district, and spent 12 years in Augusta as the executive director of superintendents and as the associate executive director of the Maine School Board Association.

Barker said he hopes to help the board find the best person to fill the role of superintendent and help the RSU move on after the year-long discussion and debate over Freeport’s withdrawal.

“(The new superintendent) is your educational leader,” Barker said. “It’s the person that will be responsible for moving RSU 5 forward.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.