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School Chief Search Begins In Buckingham

BUCKINGHAM – On Friday morning at the bus garage, the Buckingham County School Board began a journey, a journey in search of a new superintendent.

Meeting in that facility's conference room, the board listened as Gina Patterson, Deputy Director of the Virginia School Boards Association, mapped out the process and provided a proposed timeline. VSBA Executive Director Barbara Coyle was also on hand.

Within minutes, it was apparent that the board was merging into the fast lane in its effort to find a suitable candidate to lead the school division after Superintendent Dr. Gary Blair retires at the end of June.

Facing a proposed timeline that includes two opportunities for public participation in the process-a survey and a public hearing, the board agreed to post a link to the survey on its website and scheduled a public hearing for Thursday, May 17, 6 p.m., in the auditorium at Buckingham County High School.

Although the initial date for the hearing was Wednesday, May 16, there was a conflict with the use of the auditorium necessitating the date be changed, shared Chairman Acie Allen on Tuesday morning.

He explained that although the May 16 date was announced via Instant Alert and information sent home to parents, they were updating the announcement and the notices.

Both forums offer employees, parents and members of the community an opportunity to provide their input regarding the qualities and qualifications they deem important for a superintendent.

Access to the survey is available at www.bcpschools.org. Paper copies of the survey are also available at the school board office, each school, and the Buckingham Public Library.

To ensure anonymity to those using paper copies, the board is requesting that respondents mail their completed surveys to F. Acie Allen, Chair, Buckingham County School Board, at P. O. Box 268, Buckingham, VA 23921.

Deadline for submitting completed surveys is May 17, the same date as the public hearing.

Search Process

During the May 4 meeting, after Coyle distributed what was described as search books to the board, Patterson offered a review of the process to the board members, who all participated in the last search.

“By law, you know that you have 180 days once the vacancy occurs to hire your next superintendent,” stated Patterson. “So you technically would have until the end of December to announce someone.”

However, she explained that the ideal goal would be to have someone in the office by September 1. She added that if the appointee is a current superintendent they might be unable to start until January or July of the next year.

Guiding the board through the search book, Patterson explained that there are four options for individuals to qualify as a candidate on the eligible list for superintendents.

She stressed that the board did not have to worry about the criteria of the options, which she described as the job of the VSBA, with the exception of Option 4.

Option 4, explained Patterson, covers an individual who either has held a senior leadership position such as a CEO, chief executive officer, or has served as a senior military officer.

However, noting SOLs and the testing requirements facing school divisions, Patterson offered that to date Virginia has yet to hire a school superintendent under that fourth option.

Talking about the search process and timeline, Patterson stressed the importance of getting the timeline out to the staff and the community.

“Get it in the paper and let the community and employees know where you are with the process,” urged Patterson.

She explained that once the board establishes the qualifications it is looking for in its next superintendent and has heard from the public, the VSBA suggests no more than about 30 days to receive the applications.

While discussing the surveys, Patterson recommended the board utilize the division's Instant Alert system to notify the parents and staff that the survey is available. She added that a reminder-type message should be sent several days before the survey's deadline.

“The deadline for the survey should be the night of your public hearing,” suggested Patterson.

She advised, “The goal of the public hearing is to hear from your public the qualities they would like to see in the next superintendent.” Patterson stressed, “It is not for you all to comment, it is for you all to listen.”

Continuing, Patterson suggested having hard copies of the survey and/or a laptop set-up at the hearing for those who have not completed the survey.

Patterson explained that the qualifications compiled from the survey would then be listed on the position announcement. “And those are what will drive the board's decision from there on out,” she stated.

Recommending that the board get together immediately after the results from the public survey and the hearing are compiled, Patterson offered that the board also needed to come up with its list of qualifications.

Reviewing a proposed timeline, Patterson suggested applications be received from May 21 through June 15.

She explained that the VSBA would do their reference checks and other tasks before meeting with the board on June 25, at 10 a.m., for a closed session.

Then, said Patterson, the board should begin setting up interviews, which would take place during July. She added that the board is required to announce a 15-day window to start the first set of interviews.

“By law, for the superintendent, you don't have to state where or when. You just have to state the 15-day period during which you will conduct the interviews,” stated Patterson, acknowledging the tight timeline.

According to the proposed timeline, in August, the board would announce the person selected to be Buckingham's next superintendent.

Stressing the confidential nature of the selection process, Patterson recommended that board members review the applications at the central office. She added that no applicants should be calling any school board members.

“If any applicant calls anyone of you, direct them to us,” reiterated Patterson. “All of their contact should be through the VSBA.”

Patterson offered that the search book also includes sample interview questions; and articles on the superintendent search process, salaries, negotiating, and site visits. She concluded the overview by referencing a section on sample contracts and samples of addendums to contracts.

Noting that the current superintendent has been with the division for four years, Patterson shared, “I know this may not make you feel any better but the average life of a superintendent nationally is less than four years.” She added, “The State of Virginia is higher than four years, it's about six years. But, nationally, it's under three years.”

Patterson offered, “You are a good system.” She continued, “You have budget issues but who doesn't? You name me a school division in the state that doesn't have an issue with its budget right now.”

Addressing his fellow board members, Chairman Acie Allen reiterated, “Number one, if anyone calls us about the job we refer them to Gina and Barbara. And, number two, any questions we have, we call Gina and Barbara.”

Offering a comment to the public, Allen stated, “Hiring a new superintendent is the biggest task facing a school board and we want to make sure that the public has a voice in this process.” He added, “We hope that parents, staff and residents will take time to fill out the survey or attend the May 17 public hearing.”