Trustees on the Billings School District 2 board winnowed their list of 18 superintendent candidates down to five applicants at a special meeting Monday night.
The five finalists are Terry Bouck and David Gray, both from Washington, Joseph Farnsworth from Arizona, Jim Nygaard from Alaska, and Douglas Reisig from Missoula.
The five applicants were suggested to the board by the search firm McPherson & Jacobson, which the board hired earlier in the year for $17,000 to assist with the search.
“We think your next superintendent is in that group of applicants,” said Thomas Jacobson of McPherson & Jacobson.
McPherson & Jacobson representatives vetted all 18 candidates, meaning they performed background searches, criminal history searches and talked to three sources beyond what the candidates listed as their references.
Of the 18, the search firm officials picked the five, believing they best fit the criteria supplied by the board.
“We think all five are worthy of an interview,” Jacobson said.
Bouck was praised by the McPherson & Jacobson team for being a strong communicator, having shepherded through his district a 30-year facilities plan and spending a lot of time in the classroom and out in the community.
Farnsworth is the director of human resources in his district in Arizona but had previously worked as a superintendent at a smaller Arizona school district.
The McPherson & Jacobson team told the board that Farnsworth was an “effective team builder” and was described as a “charismatic, visionary leader” by the people with whom they spoke.
Gray studied in Colorado and worked for the state before taking his current superintendent job in Washington. He, too, was praised for being an excellent communicator and for valuing openness and transparency.
Nygaard, who was a finalist for the superintendent job in Lockwood, studied and worked in Montana before taking his current job in Alaska. The Lockwood school board earlier this month chose Tobin Novasio, principal/superintendent at Elder Grove School District, over Nygaard.
Nygaard, who worked for the school district in Colstrip, was praised by his Alaska colleagues for finding smart, creative solutions to tricky problems. He was named Alaska’s superintendent of the year.
Reisig, who is superintendent of the K-8 Hellgate School District, is the only Montana candidate to make McPherson & Jacobson’s cut. He’s seen as “open, honest and trustworthy,” Jacobson said.
He’s well respected by his school administrator peers throughout the state and often speaks of his district as his family, Jacobson said.
“You’re going to have a difficult time making a choice,” he told the board.
Trustees voted to bring the five candidates to town individually to tour the district and meet the community. Trustees will interview one applicant a day, starting May 7.
Board elections close the next day on May 8. The new board will convene in a special meeting May 17 to swear in the new trustees and vote on a final pick for superintendent.