Ypsilanti-Willow Run to weigh superintendent search options
Now, officials with the soon-to-be consolidated district will focus on the next major task: selecting a superintendent to direct the new school system.
The Willow Run meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. with Ypsilanti following at 7:15 p.m. During the Ypsilanti meeting, the board heard a presentation from the Michigan Association of School Boards about the services it offers in the area of superintendent searches.
Willow Run-Ypsilanti board president David Bates said the board also is attempting to schedule a presentation with the Michigan Leadership Institute, which is a privately held consulting firm specializing in assisting schools and other public institutions.
Bates said the MASB and the MLI are the two top organizations for superintendent searches in the state. He recommended at the last meeting that the board invite them both to an upcoming meeting to share a little about their search processes.
There is no timeline yet for selecting a superintendent.
“But I know the board has expressed they are very anxious to move forward with this and to develop a plan quickly,” Bates said. “We are all feeling a sense of urgency around that.”
He said the new unified school board essentially has three options for tackling the superintendent’s position: 1) hire the MASB to conduct a search; 2) hire the MLI to conduct a search; or, 3) decide it already has two good internal candidates and work on selecting a superintendent from one of the two, with the guidance of the district’s attorney.
The two internal candidates are current Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin and Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki. Both Martin and Lisiscki told AnnArbor.com Monday they intend to vie for the position of superintendent in the new unified school system.
“I want to stay for as long as I can,” Lisiscki said. “I definitely want to see this through. I’ve said all the way along this is about the kids and even though we’re in uncharted waters, it’s exciting.”
Martin echoed the Willow Run leader’s comments. He said when they were working together to bring about the consolidation, both knew in the back of their minds the day would come where there potentially would be just one of them standing. But he said neither made it an issue; they simply focused on the task ahead.
“There’s a lot to be nervous about,” Martin said of the months ahead, and of the possibility of leading an entirely new district. “But there’s a lot to be excited about as well. I don’t know of anyone out there who’d be able to say they had this type of experience.”
Lisisicki said she has not thought about what she would do if she is not named superintendent of the new district. Martin said he currently is exploring potential “Plan B” options to ensure he is able to support his family.
The MASB conducted the superintendent search in 2009 that brought Martin to the Ypsilanti Public Schools.
Richard Dunham, director of superintendent search services for the MASB, delivered Monday’s presentation. He said the typical MASB search lasts between 11 and 13 weeks.
The first few weeks generally are spent developing a composite profile of what the board and the community are looking for in a superintendent candidate. Dunham said the MASB’s emphasis on public forums and community input is what sets the MASB apart from other search organizations.
Recently, in helping the Grand Rapids Public Schools District hire a new superintendent, the MASB conducted 29 separate community input sessions.
Dunham said for the community input surveys, the MASB works with the district’s school board to develop the questions.
“We don’t use canned survey questions,” he said.
Weeks four through 10 of the search process are spent fielding applications, helping the school board determine what type of interview process it would like to use, conducting reference and background checks and setting up district visits after the interviews have been completed.
Dunham said the MASB is not involved in the decision-making or in the salary and benefit negotiations.
After the search is complete and a superintendent has been chosen, the MASB typically will host a goal-setting workshop for the board and the new district leader to establish some measurable goals for the next school year, Dunham said. It also gives guidance on superintendent evaluations and can work with the board to establish how communication between board members and the superintendent should be moving forward.
Bates asked about the timeframe, stressing the sense of urgency to have a new leader and clear direction for the consolidated district as soon as possible. Dunham said the MASB would work with the district and adjust the timeline to whatever the board wanted it to be.
“I would just caution you with the newness not to sacrifice quality with expediency,” he said.
Ypsilanti-Willow Run Vice President Don Garrett asked how often the MASB had conducted searches with internal candidates and how the process might differ if a district has one or two strong internal candidates.
Dunham said if hired, he would work for the board. So if the board wanted to give a favored status to one or both of the current superintendents, the MASB would honor that.
“Part of what I would normally say to a board is if you have a strong internal candidate, don’t waste your time and money doing a search,” he said, adding however, the internal candidate would need to have the support of the board, the community and the staff.
“They have to have all three. If one is missing, I recommend doing a search.”
Dunham also said the unified school district is conducting its search at the ideal time, as most superintendents typically decide if they are retiring or leaving in January. He said no superintendent pool is very deep. The typical national superintendent posting yields between 18 and 25 applicants, he said.
The MASB on average charges about $7,300 for superintendent search services, Dunham said. He added the unified district search, if the school board approves utilizing the MASB, would cost a little more due to the size of the new district. The MASB uses enrollment to determine the total cost.
Bates said he expects the board will discuss its options, the MASB's presentation and next steps at its retreat on Saturday, and again at the Dec. 17 board meeting. He said he is not sure how soon MLI will be able to meet with school trustees.