ACSU plans 4th superintendent search

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) board has agreed to spend up to $15,000 in a renewed effort to hire a superintendent to start the job by this summer.

Board members on Jan. 16 also agreed to form a new recruitment committee to help in what they believe will be a very narrow, five-week window in which to recruit a new top administrator in this, the ACSU’s fourth attempt at filling the position since former Superintendent Lee Sease was let go on June 30, 2011. Current Superintendent Gail Conley agreed to come out of retirement to perform the job until a permanent successor was hired, and his tenure has lapsed into a second year; he has said that he wants to permanently retire this June.

While the ACSU board will also remain in the market for a new interim superintendent just in case, it is serving notice it is prepared to pull out all the stops to find a permanent leader to start the 2013-2014 academic year. Board members calculated that the $15,000 search budget will allow them to hire a consultant as well as potentially tap into services from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC). It  is a private, nonprofit educational organization with more than 300 affiliate school districts that, among other things, helps school boards “in recruiting and selecting the very best leaders for their communities,” according to the organization’s website.

“I think we need to use every tool we’ve got,” ACSU board member Eben Punderson of Weybridge said of the renewed search. “We’re in a tough spot, but there is still some time.”

The ACSU’s third and most recent search culminated in public visits and interviews with two finalists last month. But neither Burlington School District Superintendent Jeanne M. Collins nor Wisconsin state education official John W. Johnson elected to take the job. Collins during her interview specifically cited concerns about the number of school boards (nine) and meetings with which the ACSU superintendent must currently contend, a hardship ACSU officials have started to address (see related sidebar).

Mark Perrin, ACSU board chairman, recommended that the panel move quickly in its search.

“It sounds like we have about five or six weeks, until the end of February, and then it starts getting too late,” Perrin said of the superintendent recruiting season.

NEXT STEPS in search

Plans call for the board to form a new, five-person recruitment committee that will turn its attention to re-advertising the vacancy, fielding inquiries from prospective candidates and hiring a consultant to assist. The committee may choose to up the ante by making the ACSU a member of NESDEC. That membership would give the ACSU the option of commissioning NESDEC staff to compile, for an additional fee of $7,000, a list of potential superintendent candidates, according to Perrin.

“The (superintendent) applications would go to them and they would do the vetting according to qualifications and our criteria,” ACSU Assistant Superintendent Carol Fenimore said of NESDEC.

Peter Conlon, an ACSU board member from Cornwall who chaired the panel’s most recent superintendent search committee, floated the idea of hiring an interim leader for next school year and spend that time “looking outside the box” at ways to recruit the right candidate and make the position more attractive.

“If we have to, we have to,” Punderson said of an interim superintendent option. “But I don’t want to close the door on the possibility there is a candidate out there that could be good.”

Michelle Bayliss, an ACSU board member from Weybridge, was among those who advocated aggressively searching for a permanent replacement.

“I think we show more leadership if we have a definitive plan,” she said. “I think we need to take action right away and show leadership and a little bit of vision for the district that we are looking for a superintendent.”

The recruitment committee is expected to get to work this week launching the new search. And board members believe there is a lot riding on this latest effort.

“I think we can’t afford to have another failed search for a lot of reasons, not just because we need a superintendent, but because of the reputation of the ACSU,” said Jennifer Bleich, an ACSU board member from Middlebury.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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