Search for new CCS superintendent narrowing down

Posted 3/24/21

After voting to update its previous Plan A timeline at a special meeting Monday, the Chatham County Board of Education met in closed session to discuss superintendent applications.

The board …

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Search for new CCS superintendent narrowing down

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After voting to update its previous Plan A timeline at a special meeting Monday, the Chatham County Board of Education met in closed session to discuss superintendent applications.

The board scheduled the special session at its March 8 meeting — the same day as the district’s deadline for applications for the position. At the time of the meeting, the district said it received more 30 applications. By the time the application window closed a few hours later, a total of 45 applications from 18 states and U.S. territories were submitted, the district said.

“The school board will consider the applicants based, in part, on the qualities and characteristics community members indicated they desire in the school system’s next superintendent,” a March 15 district statement said, adding that a survey captured that insight. “The school board meets March 22 to begin narrowing down candidates for interviews.”

The board formally began its search Jan. 12, one day after Dr. Randy Bridges was sworn in as the district’s interim superintendent at the board’s mid-year retreat. Bridges, who has filled several interim roles as superintendent across N.C. since retiring from running school systems, will act as interim superintendent until the permanent superintendent begins — tentatively through the end of June.

The search for a new superintendent began after former superintendent Dr. Derrick Jordan announced he’d accepted a position with the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction. Jordan spent more than 12 years in Chatham as an educator and nearly eight as the district’s superintendent.

“I don’t think we can honor him enough for the things he’s done for our system,” BOE Chairperson Gary Leonard said of Jordan at the board’s Jan. 11 mid-year retreat.

During that retreat, the board also heard a superintendent search overview, presented by Jim O’Rourke, an attorney with the North Carolina School Board Association. O’Rourke presented a draft timeline, which listed the March 8 application deadline, along with approving several other minorly edited search forms.

The board also reviewed advertising options for the superintendent position, ultimately opting to pay for all the options O’Rourke presented, along with all the free options. Of those options, the board approved advertising through several organizations meant to advance and support educators of color, noting the “current climate” and its commitment to hiring diversity. After deciding to double all 30-day advertising periods to match the 60-day periods selected, the total advertising cost amounted to approximately $3,500.

During the board’s March 8 meeting, O’Rourke presented results from the superintendent search community and staff surveys and leadership profile materials for the board to consider. The district’s survey yielded 464 completed community surveys (11 in Spanish) and 133 staff surveys completed.

The top five community priorities in a superintendent, based on the survey, asked for a superintendent who:

• Understands how to provide safe environments for students and staff

• Communicates well with people of all races and socioeconomic status

• Understands how to effectively advocate for resources needed to operate the schools

• Knows how to get staff, students, parents, and community to work together to help children learn

• Has strong human relations or “people skills”

The top five staff priorities for a new superintendent:

• Communicates well with people of all races and socioeconomic status

• Understands how to provide safe environments for students and staff

• Has strong human relations or “people skills”

• Knows how to get staff, students, parents, and community to work together to help children learn

• Communicates well with all community groups

After his presentation, O’Rourke asked the board to share any initial priorities it was thinking through in selecting a new superintendent. Board members echoed the priorities listed in the survey results, and Leonard emphasized looking for a good communicator, team builder and educational leader.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Leonard said. “We had a wonderful superintendent in Dr. Jordan so that’s a good role model, and of course we followed with Dr. Bridges and he’s been awfully good too.”

Leonard said a new superintendent should follow the desire of predecessors to help improve all schools throughout the county.

“We’ve mentioned before — and you have to be careful with this one — but (we also want) a risk taker,” he said. “Someone who’s willing to make changes as they’re needed and they’re not afraid to do that.”

“Someone who is willing to take risks certainly, and understands education and innovation is critical in order to take us to the next level as a district,” Melissa Hlavac added.

Board member Jane Allen Wilson emphasized the desire to see a “visionary” leader, as well as one with “genuine passion and excitement for kids learning.” David Hamm added that he’d like to see a superintendent with a vested interest in the community, adding that the priorities already mentioned should be given.

“We want a superintendent that’s going to be out there. Beyond what the survey says, a real people person that lives and connects with the community,” Hamm said. “It’s going to take a very special person to do that and so that’s one angle I’m looking at we review applications… I’m looking for a person that’s going to live and breathe and be part of us for a long time.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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