CASPER, Wyo. — The State Board of Education on Tuesday chose a search firm eager to accomplish the same goal as the board: hire a permanent director for the Wyoming Department of Education well before a Dec. 1 deadline.

“One of the things that was very appealing is that they have a very aggressive timeline,” board Chairman Ron Micheli said in telephone interview. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based firm’s representatives suggested a goal of July 1 to shortlist three finalists, Micheli said. But the exact timeline will be worked out in future meetings, he said.

The board at a meeting in Rock Springs unanimously approved Ray and Associates Inc. to help conduct a national search. The firm specializes in educational executive leadership searches, according to its website: www.rayassoc.com.

Gov. Matt Mead signed legislation into law Jan. 29 requiring the board to deliver to him a list of three candidates, from which he will choose a permanent director by Dec. 1. That bill, Senate File 104, also removed State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill as administrator of the department and replaced her with a director appointed by the governor.

Mead in a Feb. 4 meeting suggested the board move with urgency but prioritize quality candidates.

Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, currently is interim director of the Education Department.

Gary Ray is president of Ray and Associates. He said the firm's more than 160 associates, some in the western United States, and its networking capabilities will help the process move efficiently. Firm representatives and the state school board members will meet to discuss when to begin and end the search.

Board members have expressed interest in collecting input from people around the state to ensure the search results in a director well-suited for Wyoming.

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“We need to keep in mind that Wyoming is unique,” Micheli said. “We need to make sure that while we’re doing a national search, we need to keep in mind that we need to find someone who will relate to Wyoming.”

For example, with Wyoming’s small population, networking and reaching out to people is important to inspire buy-in from the educational community, Micheli said.

Ray said his firm has assisted in similar searches across the country and has experience in Wyoming. The Natrona County School District board of trustees used Ray and Associates during the superintendent search in 2008 when the board hired Joel Dvorak.

It's important to know about the state and what would draw someone to Wyoming, Ray said. It's equally important to know the traits and characteristics officials are looking for in the candidate. The firm and board members will meet to decide those factors, as well as how to involve voices in Wyoming, he said.

State board members were also attracted to the firm's use of social media. Board member Walt Wilcox said social media allows firms to make people aware of open positions and helps with background checks.

Ray said his firm has many followers on social media, a tool it uses in addition to traditional advertising. Ray said the firm's No. 1 recruiting tool is its website, which receives hundreds of hits a day.

Ray and Associates was among six firms that applied for the contract. It was chosen from among three finalists.

“One of things I was very pleased with was quality of the applicants that we interviewed,” Micheli said. “I think we could have had a successful contract with any of the three."

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