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Timeline for superintendent search debated

Super search on fast track

SOLON– The search for a new superintendent is underway.
Last week, Solon School Board members met with consultants from Ray and Associates Inc., a recruiting agency specializing in educational leadership searches, to discuss steps for finding a replacement for current Superintendent Sam Miller.
Earlier this month, Miller accepted a position as chief administrator at Area Education Agency 267. His current contract with Solon schools is set to expire June 30.
Miller has served as Solon’s superintendent for five years.
On Monday, April 13, the board and representatives from Ray and Associates set a timeline for the search and, on Friday, April 17, met again to create a promotional flier to be distributed to potential candidates.
The search will be divided into five stages: preparation; profile development; recruiting and screening; candidate presentation; and the selection and interviewing of finalists.
The original timeline presented by Ray had May 22 as the application deadline, with final candidates being selected the last week of June; however, board members worried that the window might be left open too long.
“The schedule as a whole, how does this compare to other searches you’ve done?” Director Tim Brown asked.
“This is pretty aggressive,” replied Linda Brock, Regional Search Director from Ray and Associates, Inc.
Superintendent Miller expressed concerns that even a four-week timeline might be too long.
“I understand your thinking, but this is my world,” Miller said. “If I see this timeline, I’m not applying for this job. People are not going to walk away from their jobs seven days from their next contract starting.”
Miller suggested an even more aggressive timeline of two weeks for the search. That way, if no appropriate candidate emerged, the district would still have time to explore other options. He said potential candidates have already begun contacting him about the position.
“It’s not a typical search for a couple of reasons; one…because it’s already mid-April,” Miller said. “Second, it’s Solon. It sounds arrogant but people want to come here for lots of reasons.”
The previous search in which Miller was selected took place over a longer period of time, but occurred earlier in the year when many superintendents were reviewing their contracts for the upcoming year.
After discussion, the board did agree to shorten the timeline in order to give the district more cushioning should it have to find an interim superintendent.
In the new timeline, applications will be due by May 8, with semi-finalists selected by May 18. Interviews are scheduled to take place May 21 and May 22, with two finalists to complete interviews the following week, during which they will meet with students, teachers and other community members.
Board members were hopeful the search would yield the quality candidates the district sought, but they still want to be prepared should no ideal candidate emerge.
“If you’re not seeing the pool of candidates you think we need, we need to know earlier rather than later,” Director Tim Brown said.
Having to resort to an interim is something no one wanted to see happen.
Board president Dick Schwab said he hoped the district would only need an interim for a few months at most. “Shorter is better,” he said.
Miller said the likelihood of that would be slim, and that the district could be looking at an interim for a year, due to the way contracts are laid out.
At the end of the discussion, board members directed Ray to continue.
“We better do a really good job in that short amount of time to find a good superintendent,” Director Dan Coons said. “If we don’t, then we need an interim, in my opinion.”

School to start Tuesday, Aug. 24
The board also finalized the academic calendar for the 2015-2016 school year.
The Iowa Legislature earlier this month approved a calendar for the upcoming year in which school districts’ earliest start date would be Monday, Aug. 23. Solon’s first day of classes for students will be Tuesday, Aug. 24.
The calendar committee felt this was the best option since students, especially those at the elementary level, have a hard time adjusting to a full week of classes right away.
Though Solon’s calendar is based on number of hours in the classroom, the district also prefers to have 180 instructional days each year. This created a somewhat lopsided division of quarters, with the first two being significantly shorter than the last two. In the new calendar, the first quarter would have 41 days, the second would have 42, while the third and fourth quarters would have 47 and 48 days, respectively.
“That really doesn’t matter at elementary or middle school levels, the only place where the impact is felt is the high school, particularly nine-week courses,” said calendar committee member Brandi Radcliffe.
In those shorter quarters, this could result in an average of four hours less of instructional time than the state suggests.
The committee polled high school teachers to see if this shortened schedule would create issues in the classroom. Teachers overwhelmingly preferred that the first semester end before Christmas, as the current school year did.
“They felt that if we continued it by those four days, those four days would be stressful for the kids and stressful for them,” Radcliffe said.
The committee also requested that the administration move assemblies to the second semester when possible, to create more time in the classroom during the first two quarters.
Board members were concerned about the amount of class time in the first two quarters.
“It worries me that we have that much disparity in number of classroom hours,” Brown said. “The kids first semester are going to learn less material than the kids second semester,”
Radcliffe responded that when students come back in the fall, they are much more focused on learning and could get through material quickly, whereas by the second semester, their focus has begun to waver.
High school Spanish teacher Karry Putzy also served on the committee and said by giving teachers notice about the shortened days, it would give them time to prepare their lessons accordingly.
“When you know today that’s what you have to plan for, it’s way different than finding out September first that you have to plan it that way,” Putzy said.
Radcliffe also noted that this calendar recommendation would only be for the upcoming school year, not the 2016-2017 school year. She hoped to gain input from parents and teachers after next school year on the success of the ratified calendar.
“It’s something we need to follow up on and survey the community after the year passes,” Radcliffe said.