School board discusses superintendent replacement process

Monday, September 8, 2008 | 11:18 p.m. CDT; updated 10:22 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — At the first meeting of the 2008 school year on Monday night, Columbia Public School Board members discussed the selection process for the district's next superintendent.

Board President Michelle Gadbois thanked Interim Superintendent Jim Ritter for joining the board and said the process of seeking a new superintendent includes options that fall along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, she said, would be a process in which the board and administrators would assess applicants without outside help. At the other end would be an option that would include hiring someone to help the board select a new superintendent, she said.

Ritter, who was superintendent before Phyllis Chase, supplied Gadbois with information for this kind of search process. Karla DeSpain is the only member who was on the board at the time Ritter ended his term as superintendent.

Gadbois said former Rock Bridge High School Principal Bob Watkins' search firm, which works with the Missouri School Boards' Association, helps districts search for superintendent candidates. A search would cost the district $13,000, she said.

If that firm were used, Gadbois explained the process would start with the board's vision. From there, the firm would meet with the board to determine what it is looking for in a superintendent. The firm would hold about four community meetings, followed by individual meetings with administrators, teachers, support staff and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce's executive committee. The firm would create a profile of what Columbia is looking for and would post a notice for the position. It would then collect the received applications and present the board with a "short list" of about five candidates that the firm recommends.

Gadbois said that although the board would be presented with the firm's recommended candidates, board members would review all applications.

DeSpain said the firm was "wonderful to work with during the previous search for a superintendent, ," and provided guidance and flexibility.

She also said that she has previously worked in human resources but wouldn't want to conduct the search on her own.

Ines Segert agreed, saying she participated in several faculty searches while at MU and the process was "extremely time consuming."

She said she feels it is important to "get community input first" by hosting listening forums before working with a firm.

Steve Calloway said that while it is the board's responsibility to hire the superintendent, it's "not something to be done in a vacuum."

Ritter said Watkins' firm conducts community forums and has completed 32 superintendent searches in the state in the past year, including those in the Francis Howell, Joplin, Osage and Grandview districts.

Jan Mees asked if the bid would be open to other firms as well. She said she wondered about the choice of firms being limited to one option.

Ritter said the board doesn't bid but chooses "who can do the best job for your school district."

He said the board should start the process right away because there are as many as 10 other vacancies in the area, and "we want to be on the top of the list."

While the process was scheduled to begin in January, he suggested the board should start as early as November.

He said he would research and present two or three more firms for the board to discuss at its Sept. 18 work session.

Ritter will serve as interim superintendent until the end of the school year. Former superintendent Phyllis Chase, who joined the district in 2003, announced her retirement Aug. 5.

She succeeded Ritter, who was the superintendent from 1998 to 2003.


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