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Superintendent search interviews to start May 7

Posted: April 12, 2018 4:45 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2018 1:00 a.m.

The Kershaw County Board of School Trustees will begin interviewing candidates to replace retiring Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan on May 7. The interviews will continue May 8 and 9. If necessary, interviews may also take place May 10.

This will constitute a first round of interviews, after which trustees will choose three or more of the applicants for a second round of interviews on May 17, 18 and 19. The new superintendent will be chosen from among that narrowed pool of candidates.

During its meeting Tuesday night, the board heard from Dr. Odell Stuckey and former KCSD Director of Communications Mary Ann Blaskowitz. Stuckey and Blaskowitz are part of a three-person team from BWP and Associates acting as consultants to trustees during the superintendent search. Trustees voted to hire BWP during their Feb. 20 meeting, agreeing to pay the firm a $21,000 fee for its assistance. Previous iterations of the board also hired BWP when it conducted the superintendent searches that resulted in hiring Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan and his predecessor, Dr. Herb Berg.

Stuckey and Blaskowitz told trustees they planned to bring forward a recommended slate of candidates forward at the board’s May 2 meeting. Trustees would then choose which of those candidates to include in the first round of interviews.
Stuckey and Blaskowitz both told the board that information about applicants interviewed in the first round should remain confidential.

“Sitting superintendents apply with the understanding of confidentiality because they frequently do not inform their (current) board until they know they are a finalist,” Stuckey said.

Regardless of the reasoning, a check with S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender confirmed the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does allow for this to be the case at that point in the process. Bender said disclosure of applicants’ information is required when applicants are narrowed to a pool of three or more applicants from which the new superintendent is actually chosen.

The applicable section of the FOIA states that while “all materials … gathered by a public body during a search to fill an employment” are exempt from disclosure, material “relating to not fewer than the final three applicants under consideration for a position must be made available for public inspection and copying.”

Tuesday, Stuckey said 42 people from 16 different states had applied for the superintendent’s position so far, with the application period closing April 20.

“A good number of states and experience levels are represented,” Stuckey said.

Bender said when the board narrows the slate of candidates to be brought forward on May 2, they must do so by public vote although they do not have to disclose the applicants’ names at that time unless they planned to name the new superintendent after that first round of interviews.

Stuckey and Blaskowitz did emphasize to the board that when the pool is narrowed the second and final time to three or more applicants, the names of and materials gathered from those candidates will need to be disclosed to the media and public.

Blaskowitz even suggested that the public, including other government officials, district employees and business owners, should be able to meet those “finalists.”

“You will probably want to plan at least one activity that’s open to the public where that candidate will have a chance to interact and speak with the public,” she said.

The board will still have to decide exactly what time on the first and second round dates to interview the applicants and where to conduct those interviews. Blaskowitz and Stuckey also suggested the board appoint one or more “gatekeepers” for the first round of interviews.

“You want to figure out someplace where you can hold those interviews that’ll be relatively private,” Blaskowitz said of that first round. “Most districts will have a staff person that will be the point person that help those candidates as far as getting directions to the district, accommodations if they need it and that kind of thing.”

Blaskowitz also said someone needs to be at the interview location to greet them and make them comfortable as they wait to be interviewed.

As part of their presentation, Blaskowitz also provided results of the district’s superintendent search survey of the public. The district posted the survey on its website from March 19 to April 6. She explained there was some overlap in the categories of respondents -- employees, non-employees, parents of current students and students themselves. An employee or non-employee might also be the parent of a student, she said.

The survey covered five areas: the district’s strengths and issues facing the district; and the desired skills, characteristics and experience/qualifications for a new superintendent.

Overall, the survey revealed the top three strengths for the district are that it has excellent teachers and staff (53 percent), a supportive community (44 percent) and its educational programs/options (28 percent).

Respondents said the top three issues facing the district are funding (63 percent), growth (53 percent) and, surprisingly, educational programs/options (40 percent), which had been listed as one of the top three strengths.

“Maybe folks are concerned about continuing them because of funding and growth -- will these be able to continue?” Byrd said. “Or, do they want additional ones. I know from some of the students comments, they want more programs and options as far as electives and things.

As for what the public is looking for in a new superintendent, survey participants chose communication (74 percent), financial (47 percent) and managerial (40 percent) as the top three skills they’d like to see in an applicant. The top three desired characteristics they chose are commitment to community (56 percent), integrity (50 percent) and good judgment (48 percent).

For experience/qualifications, Blaskowitz provided results of 15 different items for survey participants to rank as “extremely important,” “important” and “not important.” The top three “extremely important” items under this category respondents chose are experience as a teacher (55 percent), experience in instruction (54 percent) and experience in strategic planning (52 percent). Experience in a multi-cultural environment, experience as a principal and experience as a superintendent with proven success followed close behind at 47, 45 and 44 percent, respectively.

Blaskowitz also provided a breakdown of the different types of respondents. She said 778 people completed the survey, including 337 students.

“Which, I think, is the highest number (of students) we’ve ever had on a survey, and I credit that to the work that’s been done in the district to encourage student leadership,” Blaskowitz said.

The board hopes to name a new superintendent by May 21 in the hopes that person will be able to work with Morgan on a smooth transition in time for the new fiscal year to begin on July 1. Morgan announced in January he would retire June 30.

In other business Tuesday:

• In separate appearances during the meeting’s public forum section, former school board chairman Charles Baxley, representing the Kershaw County Vocational Education Foundation, and Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC) computer instructor Jerry Taylor, asked the board to consider renaming the new ATEC facility under construction as the Woolard Technology Center in honor of Gil Woolard, ATEC’s first director.

• Also during public forum, LeeAnn Torres of the Kershaw County Coalition for Safer Schools asked the board to consider supporting a personal property/vehicle tax increase by Kershaw County Council in order to fund school safety initiatives, including having one school resource officer (SRO) and one mental health clinician per 500 students, as well as including one of each at schools with less than 500 students such as Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools.

• Later in the meeting, Trustee Todd McDonald reported on further activity by the board’s joint ad hoc committee with county council on growth and SRO funding, who work is expanding further into school safety.  McDonald said the committee has created an online survey, which can be reached via the district’s website and directly by clicking here, about what funding mechanisms the public is willing to use to address school safety. An introductory page states that possible proposals include, but are not limited to, increasing the number of SROs so there is one in every school, increasing the number of mental health counselors working in schools to provide support to students experiencing personal difficulties, and purchasing radios that are fully compatible with those used by law enforcement to facilitate communication during an emergency. The actual survey is comprised of only two items. The first asks what two funding options would be acceptable -- a fee similar to the solid waste disposal fee, an increase in local property millage on all property, an increase in millage on all property except owner-occupied homes, a vehicle fee, a school fee, or none of those choices. The second item asks participants to indicate whether they live in the county, if their children attend or have attended district schools, whether they are a student themselves, and so on. The survey will be open through April 25; results will then be presented to the board and county council.

• KCSD Executive Director for K-12 Instruction Dr. Alisa Taylor presented information on the district’s and individual schools’ five-year strategic plans covering 2018 through 2023. (The C-I will report on this presentation in an upcoming edition.)

• KCSD Director of Operations Billy Smith reported on referenda-approved and funded construction work, showing significant progress at the three replacement elementary schools under construction, as well as ATEC and other projects.

• Morgan and KCSD Chief Financial Officer Donnie Wilson provided trustees with an update on the proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget, based upon a proposed budget by the S.C. Senate, whereas the previous look at the district’s budget was based on S.C. House of Representatives proposals. (The C-I will report on the budget update in an upcoming edition.)

• Trustees entered executive session to discuss employment matters, including the resignations, retirements, employment, leave of absences and reassignment of certified and classified personnel, as well contract recommendations for next school year for administrators and teachers. Afterward, trustees voted unanimously with Chair Jim Smith and Trustee Derrick Proctor absent, to accept the administration’s recommendations for all but one of the employees discussed. They then voted 6-1, with Trustee Kim DuRant voting “no” to accept the administration’s recommendation regarding “Employee A.” Neither the motions nor the votes indicated exactly what the administration’s recommendations entailed or how many employees’ requests were being considered.

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