Superintendent search under way

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Blytheville Board of Education decided Monday night, during a special meeting called to deal with “personnel”, to set up meetings with search firms and receive their proposals, before deciding whether to hire a firm to aid in hiring the district’s next district superintendent. After much discussion was made regarding the level of involvement the board would have if a firm was selected and what the task would look like for the board, both with and without a firm, the decision was unanimously made to wait and allow the firms to present their credentials.

On December 19, 2017 at another special meeting, Superintendent Richard Atwill delivered his resignation, effective June 30. Atwill has accepted a position with the Great Rivers Education Service Cooperative in Helena-West Helena. With the sudden revelation, the school board must now find a replacement for Atwill before the new school year begins.

One of the ways that could possibly make the search a little easier on board members would be to hire a search firm to find applicants. Firms such as McPherson and Jacobson which is linked on the Arkansas School Boards Association’s website under “superintendent search.”

“If we are to use a search firm, the search firm would come to us in the district and would ask us a series of questions, would go through a whole process to determine the characteristics that we are looking for and to determine the vision the board has for the school district and help us determine what kind of superintendent we would be searching for,” School Board President Tracey Ritchey said.

Ritchey went on to explain that if hired, a firm would also be responsible for receiving and reviewing résumés, performing background and social media checks, verifying licensure and all other steps required for the selection. If a firm is not hired, the board would have to perform these task themselves, which would mean multiple meetings every week until the search for applicants is completed.

“I will mention that we also need to fill out a timeline for filling and having this position and the search completed...and we would want to target the end of February…The reason for trying to fill the position by that date is because other districts are looking for superintendents and anybody interested in being a superintendent in a district would want to have a position found and have a contract signed so we would want to target that date,” Ritchey said.

The board has already received some letters of interest concerning the position and while they were initially coming to Ritchey, she requested that they come to the district instead, in case of the possibility of an FOIA request. The letters of interest are now coming through the superintendent’s office where they are filed and submitted to the board electronically.

A notice of opening has been posted to the website schoolspring.com as well as being posted on indeed.com and the Blytheville Public School District’s website. No job description has been posted on those sites.

During the last selection of a superintendent, when Atwill was hired, the board at the time did choose to hire a search firm. However, Tommy Bennett, Jr. and Billy Fair are the only current board members who were serving on the board at that time.

“My opinion? We would be out of our minds to do it ourselves. If we are going to have a, for lack of a better word, nationwide search, Ms. Ritchey says maybe a couple meetings a week if we take it on ourselves. I can foresee three maybe four meetings a week for a while. That would involve Ms. Ritchey and different ones that are involved to make phone calls to verify references, licensure, just all kinds of different information. It is a very long drawn out process. With the search firm we did not see all the applications because we basically told them what we wanted. We set the standards for what we were looking for and if they did not fit our criteria or they just flat out were not eligible then they would go over to the way side,” Bennett said.

Board member Tobey Johnson asked questions about how much control the board would have over the firm and if they would be able to question any decisions made by the firm. Bennett and Atwill responded that the firm in this case would work for the board so they essentially will do whatever the board asks of them.

If requested by the board, all applications could be given to the board even if they do not meet what the hired firm’s criteria as set. Fair asked the school district’s attorney Bobby Coleman to explain what these firms would look for when looking at applicants.

“You can legally hire anybody that is licensed. They have to be licensed by the state of Arkansas or they have to be eligible for licensure by the state of Arkansas such as a superintendent from say New York. If there is reciprocity or an agreement between New York and Arkansas that we would accept their licensure that they would be qualified and fit the criteria to be a superintendent here then you can hire them. I think that is all you are required to do is make sure that they meet the minimum qualification. But I don’t think that anyone would be satisfied with someone who just met the minimum qualifications. When you go to a heart doctor you don’t say I want the doctor with the minimum qualifications,” Coleman said.

Coleman suggested that the best and cheapest course of action would be to hire a search firm for this selection process due to the fact that the board members would have to sacrifice a lot of their time to do this job themselves. Hiring a firm would cost the district approximately $10,000.

Atwill stated using a search firm keeps the selection on a level playing field with the federal Hiring Practice Act for Nondiscrimination.

“The simple question is how many of us would have time to make these phone calls during the day?” Bennett asked.

“I mean I personally feel this is the most important thing for the school district and could be for the foreseeable future. It is more important than the gymnasium. It’s more important than some of the decisions we’ve made on this board and I feel like we can’t afford not to be involved,” Board Vice President Erin Carrington stated.

Ritchey explained that the board would still be involved with the selection process. She stated that candidates brought to the board would be involved in processes like touring the schools and meeting with different groups within the school such as faculty and students.

“It’s not going to take away all the work for us. We are still going to have a lot of work to do,” Ritchey said.

gwilliams@blythevillecourier.com