Search timetable questioned
One School Board member fears deciding on a new superintendent within 10 days could be too rushed.
By TOM MARSHALL
Published March 6, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - The way at least one Hernando County School Board member sees it, the search for a new superintendent may be over within the next 10 days.
For another, that's going way too fast.
"The whole thing is being rushed as far as I'm concerned," said board member Sandra Nicholson. "I sure don't want to go through this again. I would hope to get someone who's a really good fit with Hernando County and plans to stay five or 10 years."
In recent meetings, the board has decided to bring six finalists to the district for a reception on March 14, interview each one for an hour the following day, and perhaps take a final vote on candidates later that night.
Board member Dianne Bonfield said that process was "absolutely" sufficient to evaluate and perhaps immediately vote on candidates to replace retiring Superintendent Wendy Tellone.
Neither board member said they'd heard any discussion of a tactic that many school districts across the nation have used to scrutinize would-be leaders: the candidate site visit.
In 2004, the entire seven-member Pinellas County School Board decamped to Louisiana for two days to make sure applicant Clayton Wilcox was their choice.
Chairwoman Mary L. Tyus Brown said the trip was worth every dime, helping board members get a better sense of the candidate's leadership style.
"From my own perspective, we picked up the relationship piece with staff and his delegation process," she said. "We felt it was important to do, because we hadn't been out of the district to hire a superintendent for 30 years."
Traveling to the candidate's home turf helps school boards find new sources of information beyond the official list of references, said Barbara Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National School Boards Association.
"They're free to make their own appointments and meet with people, maybe with the editor of the local newspaper or teachers outside the union group," she said. "I know a lot of them like to go into the community and push beyond the standard list."
Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said he had suggested the possibility of such a visit to the Hernando board, which he serves as a paid search consultant.
"I think it's the intention of the board to go visit the top two candidates after their first round of interviews," he said Friday.
Board members said they didn't recall such plans, but a few said they liked the idea.
"It's pretty common," said board member John Sweeney, who said he'd done research and found many examples of the practice.
Nicholson said she had already been planning to do some solo visits, dropping by candidates' districts unannounced to poke around and ask questions.
She said the board should narrow its list of finalists down to two or three and consider a few road trips, rather than rushing a decision on March 15.
But Bonfield said she wasn't persuaded of the need for travel, and said the board could do follow-up interviews to resolve last-minute questions.
"We could have some phone calls, put people on speaker phone," Bonfield said. "I don't really see a need to go to their home district and talk to people."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.