Following the resignations of board members Mark Burns and Shelley Pearson in July, there are two seats on the Stillwater Area Schools board that will be filled with a special two-year term.
Tim Brewington and Bill Gilles were appointed to the seats until the election. Along with Brewington and Gilles, Joe Ehrler, Roger Ziemann, Alison Sherman, Bev Petrie and Nance Purcell filed to fill the seats.
Ziemann declined to attend. And while Purcell’s name still appears on the ballot, she suspended her campaign. The Gazette hosted a forum for the candidate still running active campaigns on Monday evening, Oct. 13.
One of the pressing issues a new board will face after the election is searching for a new superintendent. The board appointed interim superintendent Malinda Lansfeldt after the board reached a separation agreement with Denise Pontrelli this summer, and the board be looking for someone to fill the post permanently.
Moderator Marguerite (Margot) Rheinberger asked the candidates to weigh in on the search for a new superintendent: “What are you looking for in a new hire, and what criteria you would use to ensure the newly hired superintendent is doing their job?”
Gilles responded the board should not be looking for a new superintendent often, but it has happened frequently. He noted the SAPS leader must take all 18 communities in the district into account.
“We need someone who is a true civil servant,” Gilles said. “We need someone who is a good listener who engages all stakeholders in the community . . . We need someone who is going to seek and obtain buy in before making major decisions that affect the district.”
He added they needed to find someone who values transparency, and is willing to fulfill the wishes of the board, parents and students.
Petrie agreed with Gilles that hiring a superintendent isn’t something the district be doing as often as it is now.
“What we should be looking for is someone who is first and foremost: smart,” Petrie said. “Someone who understands community education. Someone who has a proven track record of working with families; working with a board, and working with teachers.
Change in a school district is inevitable, she noted, and a wide swath of people should be engaged the search.
“It isn’t something just seven board members should be doing, students should get involved; families should get involved; community leaders should get involved,” Petrie said. “They should have the opportunity to help vet these candidates so we really come up with someone who is the best fit for this district.”
Sherman responded that when hiring a superintendent the board’s job is to facilitate the hiring process. Adding the search should needs to be inclusive, and should reflect the growing diversity in the district.
“We need to really reach out,” Sherman said. “It’s more than asking people to apply for committees. I think we really need to do a good job as a board going out where people are.”
As for what Sherman would look for in a new district leader, she hopes to find someone with long-term planning experience, and has a background in managing a district with growing diversity.
“The board’s job is to build a strong relationship with a superintendent no matter who that superintendent is,” Sherman said. “So that means (the superintendent) needs to identify the goals and vision and create a strategic plan, but the board needs to provide the administration and the superintendent and the tools that they need to be able to deliver on that plan.”
Brewington agreed the board should engage the community in the hiring process of a leader of the SAPS school district.
“This is a public school system,” he said. “So the public pays for the school system. So the public should decide what do we want in our community. I agree it’s not just a 7-member board’s decision on what to look for in a superintendent. We need input from all of the stakeholders in our community the students.”
Those stakeholders should include taxpayers in the district who don’t have students enrolled in a district school.
“They should have input on the type of superintendent that we have because the students that we produce are going to be their neighbors and coworkers,” Brewington said. “So I think we need to have a broad range of
The superintendent should be focused on transparency, collaboration and student achievement.
Ehrler went last on this question and noted the disadvantage of that spot was his opponents had stated most of the positions already.
During the forum, moderator Rheinberger rotated who answered first so no candidate was stuck going first or last for each question.
However, Ehrler did find something to add to the discussion stating the most important aspect of a superintendent is his or her ability to community.
“They’re the face of the district,” Ehrler said, “And they have to communicate with everyone in the district.”
Those people include taxpayers without children enrolled to the teachers and students.
“I think we should open up the search to maybe even a national type of presence because we have a growing diversity (issue) in the district,” Ehrler said. “We need to, maybe, get outside Washington County, and bring in somebody to help us navigate through those challenges.”
The rest of the discussion on Monday evening included topics on where the role of school board member begins and ends and how the district is handling issues on race.