The search firm in charge of finding the next Greenfield superintendent is confident the School Board will have strong candidates to choose from, despite the issues the district continues to face.
Dr. Louis Birchbauer, the district's superintendent prior to Conrad Farner and now a search services consultant for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, told Board members Thursday the position is an attractive one.
"The reputation, the facilities, the desire to work with people and staff, the dedication and community support will help you move forward and find a leader," Birchbauer said.
Birchbauer spent much of Thursday afternoon and evening at the Greenfield Performing Arts Center and district board room conducting focus groups and gathering data and information about what skills and characteristics candidates should have.
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He met with administrators, middle and high school staff members, elementary school staff members, taxpayers, parents and the School Board. He asked all groups a series of questions ranging from what is unique about the district to what advice they would give the new superintendent.
He told Board members after their session he recognized some common threads throughout the day. Staff members indicated they’re willing to move past the administrative changes and Act 10-related issues, but want to be more respected in the process, Birchbauer said.
He said stakeholders would like to see "more collaboration rather than politics take place at the table between board and administration."
"People are a lot more aware of what’s happening than some people might think," Birchbauer said.
Trust issues exist
And he said some staff members are wondering how open the information gathering and hiring processes are.
"There's some trust issues that seem to exist, a (lack of) comfort level in expressing themselves," Birchbauer said. "There is room for improvement in the district, and I'm not sure that it's just about test scores. It has to do with the atmosphere, comfort and respect."
That appeared evident during the first gathering of the afternoon, one for administrators, when nearly the entire audience – at least a dozen staff members – left the Performing Arts Center minutes after the Greenfield Patch editor entered the room to cover the session, which was open to the public.
Birchbauer told the participants their responses to the questions could be submitted electronically if they were uncomfortable discussing their answers in the presence of the media. Only three people stayed for the duration of the session, which was scheduled for an hour, but lasted less than 30 minutes.
Before the mass exodus, some of those in attendance briefly discussed the need to build trust throughout the district and working through the district’s transition period of the last few years.
At the final session of the evening, Board members told Birchbauer they are looking for a leader who earns the staff's respect by doing more than just managing the district. They want someone who is focused on student learning and improving test scores, as well as someone who is receptive to new ideas.
"I like the idea that the person is open to other ideas and doesn't feel threatened when someone comes up with an idea," Board member Cathy Walsh said.
More collaboration wanted
Board member Don Carlson said he'd like the new superintendent to have a masters or doctorate degree in education and possibly someone with business experience. He said the new superintendent should be open and transparent with all stakeholders, and both visible and involved in the community and schools.
Carlson said he'd like to see the district work more closely with the city, neighboring school districts and the likes of Alverno College and ITT Technical Institute to find "ways we can work together and cut out redundancies and cut costs."
"These are challenging times but there are lots of opportunities for improvement and change in the district," Carlson added. "We're heading in the right direction, but this is an opportunity to improve what we have going on."
Board member Len Cich said honesty and integrity were important to him when selecting a candidate, and board member Pam Sierzchulski put an emphasis on diplomacy and educational innovation.
Board members agreed the new superintendent will face challenges when it comes to the state funding formula, the district's evolving demographics and preparing students for after high school with more and better uses of technology in and out of the classroom.
"Every school district will have its issues," Birchbauer assured board members. "Every school district has something to improve on. The minute you stop finding things to improve on, you stop moving forward."
Birchbauer said the district is the second largest in terms of student population in the state, behind only Oconomowoc, that is actively searching for a superintendent.
The position will be posted until March 18.
The answers compiled at the focus groups will be put together by the WASB in a resource guide and distributed to Board members early next month.