New board discusses options for supt. search

The newly-seated Oxford School Board got right to work on superintendent search discussions at the Jan. 7 regular board meeting.
‘Today, we’re just going to talk (about) how we want to go about that process,? said President Jim Reis. ‘Then we’ll decide which direction we want to go.?
Trustee Joyce Brasington said she’d like to see a list of different agencies that do superintendent searches and do a proposal for the board to see if any of them are economically feasible.
Superintendent Dr. William Skilling was already prepared to address the issue. Skilling got information from both the MASB (Michigan Association of School Boards) and the Michigan Leadership Institute.
‘Between the two of them, they do between 85-90 percent of all (school superintendent) searches in Michigan,? he said.
In a conversation with Tom White of MASB, Skilling was told the services of MASB would cost approximately $10,000 for a three-to-four month search process. They would provide a free one-and-half-to-two hour workshop on going through a superintendent search process and an expedited process billed at $140 per hour, plus travel time.
‘If there is a strong internal candidate, Tom recommends interviewing the internal candidate first to determine if he or she is the candidate of choice,? Skilling said. ‘The reason he was recommending this was because it’s not going to be fair to the external candidates.?
‘When you go into a superintendent search, sitting superintendents take a big risk when they apply (for)superintendent positions,? he further explained. ‘If they go out and apply, it can negatively impact their relationship with their current board and community. It’s difficult to get the ones you really want to apply.?
A second option White recommended to Skilling was to hire an internal candidate as an interim for one year ‘to allow the individual to demonstrate their leadership and abilities, but also give the board the ability to decide whether they want to make this person their permanent superintendent.?
Knowing the Oxford district very well, White also mentioned to Skilling that he believes it will be difficult to find someone with the experience and ability to lead Oxford Schools give the amount and diversity of programs.
‘The challenge before this new superintendent, whoever you hire, will be the sustainability of existing programs. I don’t think any high school can match us as far as comprehension, particularly at our size, Skilling added. ‘To be able to maintain that and all the external partnerships and things that we do that other districts don’t touch, it’s going to take a unique person to be able to handle that.?
Skilling also talked with Mike Wilmot of the Michigan Leadership Institute (MLI). Wilmot told him that a normal 10-12 week external search would come at a ‘discounted cost of $5,500.? Like MASB, if there is an internal candidate, MLI recommends interviewing them first.
‘If the board wants to hire, the process is over. If not, the search is extended to external candidates,? Skilling said.
MLI also believes if the internal candidate is not interviewed first that it will be difficult to get external candidates to apply.
The public interview of the internal candidate would be the same as external with a 90-minute interview.
The cost to do the internal interview only is a flat fee of $3,000 only if the board decided to go outside to interview would it cost the additional $2,500. MLI would also provide a workshop on how to select a superintendent and for creating the appropriate questions, as well as provide a governance workshop as a part of the search cost after the new superintendent is hired and on the job.
‘They’re both reputable search firms and they know what they’re doing,? Skilling said.
At a special board meeting held Jan. 10, Reis said the board had further discussions on the process going forward and through a consensus will probably approve MLI at a special meeting held Jan. 13 (see next week’s edition for details).
‘If they’re both just as fantastic and have great references, let’s not spend as much money,? Reis told this reporter in a Jan. 12 phone interview.
Personally, Trustee Mike Schweig would like the board to search outside of the district so they have someone to compare an internal candidate.
‘If we don’t open it up to other candidates, we’re right back to where we started in December and I don’t think that was a good process to have one candidate,? he said at the Jan. 7 meeting.
Schweig was referring back to the December 10 meeting, where the appointment of Deputy Superintendent Tim Throne to superintendent was added to the agenda at the last minute. The appointment might have gone through had not Schweig and others in the audience raised concerns over the matter.
‘I understand what Bill is saying about a superintendent not wanting to come here,? Schweig said. ‘But if we’re a lighthouse district and we’re as good as we say we are, I think we would be attracting people.?
Following the Dec. 10 meeting and not liking how things might have potentially played out, Trustee Kim Shumaker approached both Skilling and Throne. Shumaker suggested that Skilling step into a different role and allow the board to possibly appoint Throne to interim superintendent while they do their search.
Treasurer Dan D’Alessandro was against that idea.
‘I’m going to step out of my board member’s position and put my business hat on.You make me the interim president of a company, I’m looking. If I am sitting in his seat, I’m going to see what the best offer is and I wouldn’t blame him or begrudge anybody for doing that. Because how are you supposed to feel confident being the interim superintendent if you don’t feel the board has confidence in your abilities,? he asked. ‘The reason I was so strong (in December) is because I am confident in that person. I am confident in who he (is), I’m confident in the person he is and I’m confident in the leadership he can bring. That’s why I am adamant about Tim, but I’m one person.?
Shumaker felt just the opposite. She believes appointing Throne as the interim superintendent is bestowing a level of confidence in him and his abilities.
‘It also gives the employee groups and the community some time to see Tim as Tim, instead of Tim under someone else. He drives the machine. He’s the one making the decisions and people get to see him for who he is,? Shumaker added. ‘It also gives us a little bit of time to figure out the process and we could still get through that process regardless of what you decide to be before we would potentially lose him.?
D’Alessandro believes the current board is very ‘conflicted? from the past one.
‘I guess this sitting board has to decide what they want to do and what that search looks like. I am all for having the different community groups have a say, ‘This is what we like, don’t like, who we like, who we wouldn’t like,? he said. ‘But at the end of the day it’s the seven of us who has to choose one person and we have to try to honor all those groups and still understand the uniqueness of Oxford.?
‘You don’t want to go to different places to try and find somebody that’s going to take on the initiatives that we have, unless you’re saying, ‘We’re not going to do those anymore (and) we’re not going to go in this direction anymore? and then, that new superintendent puts their mold and stamp on it,? D’Alessandro continued. ‘I want someone who understands the direction we’re trying to go, understands our past. That’s just my opinion.?
Brasington said she’d like to know more of the ‘process? as to how the board arrived to the point that they were going to make a decision at the Dec. 10 meeting without any input from outside sources, which she would like to hear.
‘I’m not sure if it’s our responsibility as a board to get community input, staff input. I’m not sure (what) the needs of the high school are right now. I don’t know what the needs are at the middle school. I don’t know what the OEA thinks the needs are for a superintendent or what qualities they’re looking for? I don’t know,? she said. ‘But I would like to have someone externally tell me what our own employees and our own community are telling us.?
Trustee Mark Stepek agreed they needed more information from the different community groups.
‘When we become more knowledgeable about what each of the individual schools have to say, whatever their needs are. AFSCME and the teachers,? Stepek said. ‘Then we can decide as this new board.?
Reis thinks the board ‘really screwed up? when they started ‘grooming? both Throne and former Chief Academic Officer Dr. James Schwartz, who left late fall last year to become superintendent of Avondale Schools.
‘It was out there, but not enough and that should have been talked about back then about how we’re building this plan and we got leadership classes and we’re trying to teach people how to be good administrators (and) we’re trying to promote from within,? Reis said. ‘That should all have been communicated.?
Skilling explained that he began talking to the district back in 2010 about the importance of a ‘transition plan? and grooming from within the district to take over not only superintendent, but all levels of administration.
‘I don’t want to be the Lee Iacocca of Chrysler where I build this empire for myself and when I leave it crashes because nothing was done to build a leadership team or organizational structure that sustains itself. I rather follow the GE model,? Skilling said. ‘They are maybe the only company who’s been a fortune 500 for over a century. The secret of their success is they build and groom their leadership team from within and their CEO comes from within.?
Skilling believes if Throne took over he wouldn’t be a ‘Lee Iacocca.?
‘Things would be sustainable and continue to move forward and be a very productive district,? he said.
To lead Oxford, Skilling says it would take ‘somebody who’s willing to have strong vision, laser-like focus on that vision and willing to take risk in spite of the pushback? and most superintendents he believes don’t have that.
‘This is why you’re going to struggle. I told the board in 2010, you will not get the number of candidates for this district that you think, even though we’re highly esteemed across the state and even nationally. That’s exactly why you won’t. It’s counterintuitive. Because most of your leaders out there are career managers. They’re not willing to take the risk.?
Well, despite what the ‘pool? may be, Schweig still believes it would be beneficial to have some candidates outside to compare to Throne.
‘The cream rises to the top and if that’s Tim Throne and he’s as fantastic as everybody thinks he is, myself included, he will rise to the top,? Schweig said.