Search for new school superintendent moves into high gear

By Oliver Lazenby

The Blaine school district is moving fast on its superintendent search in hopes of hiring one by August 31. However, if that doesn’t work out, the district will hire an interim superintendent and continue searching.

Current superintendent Ron Spanjer announced in April that he would retire at the end of August.

The school district hired Omaha, Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson, a superintendent search firm that has placed more than 750 superintendents and other school executives across the country.

The school board hopes to have its criteria for a new superintendent refined by the end of the month in order to start advertising the position. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29, the school board is holding a community input meeting and seeking input through a survey on its website, blainesd.org.

The superintendent search consultant will also hear from high school students and district staff at various meetings between now and May 29, said Tina Padilla, district assistant to the superintendent.

Following the May 29 community meeting, the board will hold a special meeting at 8 p.m. to formalize its priorities for a new superintendent.

Timeline

It’s late in the superintendent “hiring season,” board members said. Most superintendent contracts in Washington state run from July 1 to June 30, which could make it difficult to find a candidate who is currently a superintendent in another district, said board president John Freal.

Finding a current superintendent isn’t necessary; Spanjer, who served the district for 13 years, was not a full superintendent when he was hired.

“He came in with good experience as an assistant superintendent and with human resources experience,” board member Charles Gibson said. “He was clearly quite experienced and was not looking to move from one superintendent position to another. So for someone who has been working their way toward being a superintendent, this could be an opportunity.”

And if the school board doesn’t find that candidate, they can hire an interim and continue searching.

“This allows us to do our due diligence and if we’re not certain about any of the candidates, we can hire an interim and take a longer time looking for a permanent superintendent,” Freal said. “We may decide at some point along the way we’re going to get an interim for a year and just let the process play out in 2020.”

The board wouldn’t need to hire an interim superintendent for an entire school year – it could replace an interim superintendent with a more permanent superintendent after just a couple months, for example.

Hiring a consultant

The school board voted unanimously to hire McPherson & Jacobson after interviewing two firms at a May 17 special board meeting. That firm has a national footprint while the other candidate for the job, Northwest Leadership Associates, works in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. All of Northwest Leadership Associates’ consultants have experience as superintendents in the Pacific Northwest, according to its website, while McPherson & Jacobson’s consultants have more diverse experience.

“They were both strong options, we just felt like we needed a broader net to be thrown out and also to have the experience of educators looking at this who are not just superintendents,” Gibson said.

The school district’s $9,500 contract with McPherson & Jacobson includes a two-year guarantee; if the future superintendent ends employment within two years, McPherson & Jacobson will repeat the search process for no extra cost.

Search criteria

After voting to hire McPherson & Jacobson, the board held a meeting on the following Monday, May 20, to discuss its criteria for a superintendent.

The board’s policy states that notice of special meetings must be given 24 hours prior to the meeting being held. The board gave notice about the Monday meeting on its website on Friday night. District officials said that short notice had to do with the tight timeline for posting the job, and that the community would have other opportunities for input.

“We’re behind the eight-ball right now. Ron didn’t make his decision until fairly late in the game,” Freal said.

The board doesn’t plan to take formal action on its criteria for the hiring process until May 29, after hearing from the community. Those criteria will be included in the job posting and will inform McPherson & Jacobson’s search.

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