By CARL SMITH
Approximately 50 concerned Starkville residents discussed ideas and commented on the ongoing search for a new superintendent of Starkville schools on Tuesday.
During the 6 p.m. meeting held at the Sudduth Elementary Multipurpose Building, Board president Keith Coble, Eddie Myles, Lee Brand and Eric Heiselt represented the district along with acting superintendent Beth Sewell. Board member Pickett Wilson was absent from the meeting.
The meeting began as Heiselt reviewed a presentation he authored about the search process. Heiselt’s proposal, which can be found on the Starkville School District’s website (www.starkville.k12.ms.us ), calls for the creation of an executive search committee and subcommittees consisting of district personnel, parents and community members to compose a list of ideal qualities for the next superintendent.
Applications for superintendent would be collected by July 25, according to Heiselt’s proposal, and final candidates would meet with each subcommittee for public, one-hour interviews. Following those interviews, the executive search committee would recommend its choice to the school board for consideration.
The potential usage of a consulting firm to assist in the search process was also discussed by board members. While the topic was discussed, no action has been taken by the board to secure one’s services.
“Just about every [school] district that I have had a conversation with has used a consultant to help them with this process. They use them to check references, handle some of the background work and assist in recruiting,” Coble said. “We’re still in an information-gathering phase with the search. The intention is we’re going to discuss how to move forward in our meeting next week.”
The Starkville School District is a member of the Mississippi School Boards Association, an organization which provides assistance in candidate searches. According to the unofficial minutes of the meeting, it would cost the district from $4,000 to $9,000 to conduct a search.
Following the board’s discussion, the attendees from the community were allowed three minutes each for public comments. SSD Public Information Officer Nicole Thomas said approximately 17 people gave input ranging from comments about about the search itself to the qualities they would like to see in the next superintendent.
Susan Tomlinson said the community needs to come together and be positive with the search.
“We have to set the bar high; our kids deserve it,” she said. “We can have the best schools in the state, but everyone has to work together.”
Brother Rogers said to run an excellent district, the superintendent needs to be an excellent leader.
“We need to look far and wide,” he said. “[We need] a superintendent who is involved in the Starkville community.”
Roy Pollard said the school board needs to “be the one to narrow the field and then let the committees interview each one.”
Melissa Luckett said openness would help keep up positivity in regard to the search.
“The definition of the word ‘hope’ is to have the confidence of trust, to look forward to something with full expectation of its fulfillment,” she said. “How do we remain positive? Openness, being here today, allowing us as parents to share our ideas.”
Craig Aarhus said the next superintendent should be invested in Starkville and “have the heart of a teacher.”
“Listen to those who have offered suggestions and input,” he said. “What’s done is done and what’s in the past is in the past.”
Frank Chiles praised the board for its recent change in leadership, but said he still feels like one board member needs to go. The new superintendent, he said, should be a person who is able to “pick up the pieces and move forward.”
Lisa Spencer asked if the results of a self-study would be made public and how long the search process would take and suggested committees need to be diverse and “tonight is a great start in coming together.”
Rex Buffington called for a leader who can “unite the community and have parents being involved in a meaningful way.”
Heather Carson promoted transparency in the search to the board and suggested implementing a survey to identify key characteristics for the next superintendent.
Chris Cosper said, “Until every student in the district reaches his/her ultimate potential, we have work left to do. Settling for anything less is settling.”
Lesia Bryant said final candidates should do a presentation on their vision for the school district.
Doug Bedsaul said, “Community involvement is extremely important; this gets overlooked. [A] potential candidate must be involved in the community.”
Simone Mackin said she would like to have an employee subcommittee and a teacher subcommittee formed for the search process.
“[We] need as much teacher feedback as possible,” she said. “[The] superintendent should be very team oriented, not ‘my way or the highway.’”
Kate Fabel said teachers should submit anonymous ideas of what they would like in a superintendent. She also said the district and Mississippi State University should work in the search process.
Sandi George said other administrators besides principals should be involved in the search process.
Amy Aarhus said talking about the positive points would help promote positivity overall.
“Nothing about this process should be random; it should be calculated,” John Tomlinson said. “Hire a search committee, not a screening committee. Take as much time as you need.”
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is set for 6 p.m. June 7 at the Greensboro Center. In that meeting, Coble said the board will discuss ways to use the feedback it gathered in Tuesday’s special meeting.
“I thought it was a really constructive discussion from the board’s point,” Coble said. “What we will now do is sit down and see if we can blend all of these comments into one workable idea.”