Been there. Done that.
Hire an out-of-state headhunting firm to find a new superintendent for Billings Public Schools? That was suggested at Monday night’s school board meeting as a new, never-been-done-before idea.
Back in 1983, the school board hired a Nebraska firm for $12,000 plus expenses to find the right superintendent. On the firm’s recommendation, trustees hired William K. Poston Jr. from Arizona at a salary substantially higher than what his Billings predecessor was paid. During Poston’s tenure, the district built Skyview High School, Eagle Cliffs Elementary and Big Sky Elementary. But less than four years later, dissatisfied trustees were searching for a new superintendent and cutting the school budget. Some Billings school staff members and local businesspeople came to regard Poston as “too authoritarian.”
The next superintendent hired was Roger Eble, who moved to Billings from Helena where he had been the public school chief. After the much admired and respected Eble died, the district hired another superintendent with a Montana background, then one from Iowa, then an internal candidate, next a Montana native, then another school chief from Helena. Keith Beeman was hired in part because he had worked in a larger school district in California. The district contracted with the Montana School Boards Association for assistance in the search that ended with Beeman’s selection in the spring of 2010.
Neither hiring a headhunter, nor conducting a nationwide search, nor hiring an out-of-stater, nor hiring from within Montana or within the district guarantees a good candidate, much less one that will end up serving more than a few years.
Regardless of who hunts or where the candidates come from, trustees need to hire a smart, creative, inspirational leader who works well with a broad range of people in the schools and community.
For the interim — which began last week — trustees must quickly name an acting superintendent who can hit the ground running. Trustees voted Monday to advertise regionally. They should consider internal candidates as well as educators who know Billings and Montana’s education system. There will be no time for on-the-job-training for the interim administrator in the middle of the school year.
With the resignation of Chairwoman Barbara Bryan on Tuesday, the board has the additional challenge of appointing a new trustee to serve the remaining seven months of her term.
We call on all the rest of the trustees to put aside any personal conflicts and move ahead with the important business of setting policy for our schools.
Trustees should consider: Who would do the best job for Billings students? Then hire that person as soon as possible as the interim superintendent.
Then the board must start the process of selecting a “permanent” superintendent. If that process doesn’t start soon, an interim superintendent probably will be needed again for the 2012-2013 school year.
Trustees should have a fulsome discussion about the choice of interim superintendent and then vote. All trustees then ought to support that decision, regardless of their individual vote. The interim superintendent appointed midyear is going to need their help to lead Montana’s largest school district.