TRAVERSE CITY — Another box has been checked in the search for a new leader of Traverse City Area Public Schools.

TCAPS Board of Education members on Monday unanimously approved hiring Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to lead the search for a superintendent to replace Jim Pavelka, who holds the district’s top administrator post on an interim basis. The cost of the search is estimated to be $21,500 plus other expenses.

Pavelka has been on the job since Oct. 17 when it was announced he would replace Ann Cardon, whose tenure with the district ended abruptly with her resignation after less than three months on the job.

Trustees went without a search firm before hiring Cardon — who left TCAPS with a $180,000 severance package, as previously reported — instead relying on free services from Grant Chandler, a consultant who was leading the installation of the Blueprint system districtwide. Chandler was later investigated by his employer, Calhoun Intermediate School District, for possible misuse of Title I funds before he resigned as MI Excel executive director.

Board President Sue Kelly said the decision to hire a search firm this time was made out of necessity.

“We put hours and hours and hours and hours of work into that search,” Kelly said. “We’re at the extent of abilities to continue to function. We needed the help.”

The Board received proposals from seven firms before whittling them down to three — HYA, the Michigan Association of School Boards and Ray & Associates — two weeks ago. The Board subcommittee, made up of Trustees Pam Forton, Ben McGuire and Erica Moon Mohr along with Pavelka, interviewed representatives from each candidate firm last Thursday before deciding on HYA as the recommendation to go before the full Board Monday night.

Although HYA is a national firm, Forton said she was impressed by the “really strong Michigan presence” the company offered.

Jim Morse, who will be leading the search along with Alena Zachery-Ross, worked as a visiting professor at Michigan State University for 30 years and as a consultant for low-performing Michigan schools for three years. Zachery-Ross is the current superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools and the former superintendent for Okemos Public Schools and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy.

“They were very well respected. They’ve been around for a long time,” said Forton, who was also impressed by HYA’s practice of actively recruiting candidates and the web portal the company offers as a central station of candidate information and criteria. “We like the idea of the broad national search, but also to have that local Michigan presence.”

HYA has placed superintendents at 16 school districts with a comparable size to TCAPS since 2015, and company officials estimate the process for TCAPS will take 12-16 weeks. Board members have set July 1 as a target start date for the next superintendent.

McGuire spent time during the weekend checking out HYA’s references, including Birmingham Public Schools, and found HYA to have a “sterling reputation.” McGuire also said Morse articulated the process HYA would go through the best of the three firms and provided a “comfort level” of gaining and gauging community input — a priority McGuire had high on his list.

“We cannot go wrong relying on their expertise,” he said.

The next step, McGuire said, will see Morse and Zachery-Ross come to Traverse City for a planning session to lay out a schedule for HYA’s responsibilities and TCAPS trustees’ responsibilities throughout the process. McGuire said the Board’s major task will be identifying what community groups from which they would like to get feedback.

“It allows them (HYA) to interact with the community in ways that we, as a Board, might sometimes have difficulties,” McGuire said. “They can go to (TCAPS Transparency),” a group critical of the Board’s recent actions, “and talk to them in a way probably none of us could.”

McGuire said he expects Morse and Zachery-Ross to attend the Feb. 10 meeting of the full Board.

Meeting on Montessori reconstruction Tuesday

TCAPS officials will meet Tuesday with the Montessori PTO to discuss items relating to the location and construction of a new school building. The meeting is set for 5 p.m.

Immediately following the meeting, Traverse City Planning Director Russ Soyring will update Montessori parents and district officials about the city’s master plan for the 14th Street corridor.

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