School district moving fast on search for new superintendent

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 has planned to have its criteria for a new superintendent refined by the end of May in order to start advertising the position. On May 29, the school board held a community input meeting and sought input through a survey on its website, Blainesd.org.

The superintendent search consultant also heard from high school students and district staff at various meetings up until May 29.

Following the May 29 community meeting, the board held 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, didn’t have previous superintendent experience.

“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 May 20 to discuss its criteria for a superintendent.

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

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