EMU professor advises Tecumseh School Board to ‘take your time’ in search for new superintendent

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Dr. William Price addresses the school board at the Monday, July 30 meeting. Photo by Deane Erts.

Tecumseh School Board trustees received a crash course in searching for superintendents at Monday night’s regular meeting, and the primary message from Dr. William Price, a professor of postgraduate-level school administration courses at Eastern Michigan University, was, “Don’t rush. Take your time.” The TPS board has begun the process of hiring a new superintendent to replace outgoing superintendent Mike McAran, who announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

“This is the most important thing that you will do as trustees,” Price told the board. “I urge you to take your time and do it right. Find the best possible fit for the school district.”

Price emphasized that he was not addressing the board seeking employment as a consultant, but simply as a favor to the school district to get the trustees started in the search in the right direction. “I’m not here looking for a job,” he said. “I won’t be back, but I will walk you through the process tonight.” As part of his superintendent search primer, Price distributed copies of the lecture he presented to each of the board members to serve as a reference for the coming search and interview process. In the course of his career, Price has been both a superintendent himself and a consultant for school districts that were seeking new superintendents.

Price told the board to be very specific about expectations when describing the job for potential applicants. He highly recommended that the postings include the information that the current superintendent was retiring, not moving to another job. He also advised the trustees to take a good look at themselves and the community and to be prepared to decide whether they are looking for a socially oriented superintendent or a corporately-oriented superintendent.

“Ideally, you will find a candidate that falls in the middle of the continuum between the ‘familial’ (socially-oriented) and the ‘corporate’ (business-oriented),” Price said. “someone who believes in working collaboratively and is a skilled negotiator, but who is also well organized and files reports that he or she expects to be read by the trustees.”

Price said that the times when school boards could expect to attract a hundred or more applicants are gone. “You will be lucky to get 25 candidates that you can seriously consider,” he said.

A primary reason that Price suggested adding another month to the search process is that the Tecumseh board was hoping to end the posting of the position in the fall and begin the interviewing in early winter. Price said that this was unwise because superintendents are very busy at this time of the year as they help prepare their school districts for the coming year, and whether they are contemplating a move or not, they have little time to respond properly to job postings.

Board President Ed Tritt, who is a veteran of a past superintendent search, suggested that the board work on the interview questions for the candidates who are called in for a face-to-face meeting with the board. “We need to look at the information we have from last time and begin collecting a summary of area superintendent contracts and salaries. He inquired if his fellow board members were comfortable with refining the search and more completely defining the qualifications for a superintendent before posting the position officially. The board agreed that further preparation was necessary before the job is posted in trade journals, universities, and professional websites, such as Michigan Association of School Boards.

Previously, the trustees had hoped to have the superintendent search completed by March 2013. Under the advisement of Price, the board has moved the prospective job posting date back from Aug. 1 to at least September and to give careful consideration to clearly defining the characteristics that they are looking for in a superintendent and making plain what the salary and benefits will be offered.

The board is currently reconsidering the possibility of contracting an impartial third party search advisor that would have access and experience in looking for candidates out of state. Consultants who offer such services may be hired for very specific tasks, such as providing a list of candidates who they know are interested in changing jobs and can expand the help they offer to include details such as helping to tailor the interview questions to pinpoint the characteristics that the board has determined to be optimal for Tecumseh students and teachers. The board will discuss the next steps in the search at the first August meeting, Monday, Aug. 13.

One of Price’s parting words of advice to the board was to find a candidate that they all agree on. “Nobody wants to begin a job with a board that hired you on a 4-3 vote,” he told the trustees. “Ideally, you should vote for approval unanimously.”

In another presentation for the board Monday night, Tecumseh High School teacher Ray Schmidt and kindergarten teacher Melissa Hilton updated the trustees on the progress of the Tecumseh Alumni Association (TCA), which is undergoing its formative organizational meetings as it becomes what Schmidt described as a data base where alumni can reconnect with other alumni and plan reunions. Schmidt also said that the TCA looks forward to the time when it can offer scholarships to graduating seniors, and establish a wall of honor to recognize past grads who have gained state and national recognition.

Hilton echoed Schmidt’s enthusiasm, noting that both she and Schmidt were from families of ten children who all had gone through the Tecumseh school system and now are spearheading efforts to establish the alumni association. “We want to begin paying it forward,” Hilton said, referring to efforts by the TCA to provide scholarships. “It’s about being proud of where you’re from. We’re trying to raise awareness of the alumni association and get more participation. We’re grateful to the board for allowing us to organize the association.”




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