TRAVERSE CITY — A preliminary timeline was set and discussions were had regarding hiring a new leader of Traverse City Area Public Schools.
The board of education for the largest school district in northern Michigan is in the early stages of working with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the firm hired to lead the search for the next TCAPS superintendent. Trustees met Monday night with Jim Morse, who is leading the search along with Alena Zachery-Ross, to discuss proper protocol and how to proceed.
Morse said TCAPS should expect to get 25-30 applicants. HYA will then provide a summary of the top 10 to consider before whittling the list down to five or six for in-person interviews. If none of those candidates meet the expectations of the board, Morse said HYA will “work until you’re satisfied with your superintendent candidate.”
Morse and Zachery-Ross will meet and speak with representatives from the board, district administration, principals, support staff, the teachers union, student groups, former board members and PTO councils as well as business and government leadership. They will also host the second of two community forums Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Traverse City West Middle School. The first was held Tuesday at Traverse City Central High School.
An online survey is also live and runs through the end of February. Nearly a thousand submissions had been received as of Monday night, with more than half of respondents identifying themselves as a parent. Morse said that is one of the highest numbers he’s ever seen for a search.
Morse and Zachery-Ross will use the information gathered from the meetings and the survey to create a candidate profile they’ll present to the board on March 9 and then provide a slate of candidates recommended for a board interview on April 13.
Morse said they will set up a time to interview the candidates between April 21-23 or possibly move it to a Saturday and do it all in one day. Interim Superintendent Jim Pavelka said trying to squeeze six interviews into one Saturday would “exhaust the board,” but trustees accomplished such a task in their last superintendent search.
Morse suggested splitting the candidate interviews into two per day, but some board members said that might give the later candidates an advantage if they’re able to find out what questions were asked to the earlier candidates.
Some trustees also expressed concern regarding the public’s ability to livestream the candidate interviews on Facebook or other platforms. Board President Sue Kelly said the district does not plan to livestream or broadcast the interviews, but they will record the interviews and then publish them online for the public to view after all interviews have been completed.
Kelly pointed to a board meeting in October 2019 when a Record-Eagle reporter was asked to cease livestreaming the meeting during interviews for a vacant board seat. The reporter declined to shut off the livestream, and the meeting continued.
Morse said there is often an agreement with the media not to livestream, but board Vice President Jeff Leonhardt said a precedent was set in October that might continue through the superintendent search process.
Justin Van Rheenen is the co-founder of TCAPS Transparency — a group formed in the wake of former Superintendent Ann Cardon’s resignation in October. He knows the board is not required to livestream the meetings, but Van Rheenen said it bothers him that board trustees have broached this subject several times.
“For some reason they’re worried about people getting information,” Van Rheenen said. “To me, let’s open it up at Central Grade and have an area that’s large enough for a max amount of people to come in for those interviews and not do it in boardroom C upstairs. That’s just not enough room.”
The option of releasing the questions to candidates beforehand and allowing them all the same amount of time to prepare was also brought up. Leonhardt wasn’t opposed to the idea, but he said new teacher candidates are not given the interview questions in advance.
Trustee Erica Moon Mohr said she was concerned about then getting canned responses from the candidates, but Pavelka said the board is smart enough to weed out true answers from answers given because that’s what the candidate thinks the board wants to hear.
“If I were a candidate coming into this position and I really wanted the job, I don’t care who had the questions in advance,” Pavelka said. “It wouldn’t matter one bit to me if the five people in front of me had all the questions. I’m going to tell you about my experiences. I’m going to tell you about how I lead and inspire.”
The second interview, Morse said, would include the final two candidates presenting their 90-day plan to the district along with the district hosting a dinner for the trustees to see how the candidates interact socially.
Morse said hiring a superintendent is “like beginning a marriage,” and he said it will be “critical” to have a workshop involving board trustees and the new superintendent to discuss roles, responsibilities and expectations.
“You have to understand how you’re going to treat each other with respect,” Morse said.
Morse also suggested hiring an outside facilitator to lead an evaluation of the superintendent about three or four months into his or her tenure. He said that will allow all sides to identify any issues that have cropped up in that time frame.
“You need to resolve those issues early before they become a problem,” Morse said.