MSBA gathers local input for superintendent search

In an effort to collect more public input for the process of hiring a new Ennis superintendent, a representative from the Montana School Board Association held a series of meetings Monday with different interest groups in Ennis.

The focus meetings were essentially meant to collect information on what things people think are going right in the school district, what needs improvement and what traits are needed in a new superintendent, said Bob Vogel, director of government relations with the MSBA.

The MSBA is assisting the Ennis School Board in hiring a new superintendent. Current superintendent Doug Walsh announced his retirement in February and will stay on through June.

Vogel met Monday specifically with students, teachers, other school staff and the public. The idea was to gather input he would provide the school board prior to their review of candidates. Applications for the Ennis superintendent position will be accepted through March 29.

Typically in the process of hiring a new superintendent it’s easy to point to things within the school district that aren’t going well, Vogel said. However, it’s just as important to look at what is going right.

“I think you want to paint a realistic picture of the district for a new person coming in so they know where their starting point is,” he said.

During the day Monday, Vogel met with students who were excited at the opportunity to provide their input.

“I know the students enjoyed the ability to participate in the process and get a sense that their voice is being heard,” he said.

The students were grateful for the opportunities they had as far as activities and education, including the new slate of advanced placement classes at the high school level, Vogel said.

“In general, they were just very aware of the opportunity and appreciative of the opportunity they have but know they need to keep looking at the other opportunities ahead,” he said.

The teachers were aware of some of the existing budgetary constraints, Vogel said. Their comments included topics such as staffing and curriculum programs.

The public meeting Monday evening was attended by eight people and Vogel shepherded them through the questions he had asked people over the course of the day – what was going well in the school district, what needed improvement and what qualities should a new superintendent posses.

John Tomlinson had a mix of questions and comments for Vogel.

He asked if the two principals at the Ennis School District would be considered for the superintendent position.

Vogel said he didn’t know of any internal candidates, but to be a superintendent in Montana you had to be accredited or on your way to accreditation.

Some of the good things happening in the Ennis schools are the staff’s attention to students with learning disabilities and special needs, Tomlinson said. He felt attention to these programs needed to be a priority in the future.

Kelly Robinson felt the addition of advanced placement courses this year was a great step and felt that students at the school were accomplishing great things pointing specifically to programs such as FCCLA and speech and debate. The debate team won a state championship this year.

She also felt the increased community involvement with the school district over the past two years has been a good thing.

Jessie Rice pointed to the caring staff at the school that take time to get to know students in an effort to provide them with a better education.

The school administration is also supportive of the staff, which is important, Rice said.

Brandy Hilton emphasized the past importance of having a superintendent who was willing to be involved with the state legislature and with legislation impacting the school district.

Ennis School District Clerk Ginger Martello echoed Hilton. During his career in Ennis, Walsh has been good at protecting the district’s interests over boundary concerns with district residents in Big Sky. That effort will need to continue in the future, she said.

Some of the other challenges facing the school district will be restoring community trust, Robinson said. The recent controversy over the school budgeting and funds has made taxpayers unhappy and as a result mill levies have been voted down.

The district needs to hire a superintendent that can restore trust in the school district and budgeting process, she said.

A new superintendent would need to be open-minded and be willing to communicate with people about what does and doesn’t work, Martello said.

Tomlinson agreed. The new superintendent will have to excel at communicating with everyone.

A new superintendent should have strong leadership characteristics, Robinson said.

“I would really like to see leadership with integrity, with inspiration and with innovation,” she said.

Vogel also outlined a bit of the interviewing process he expects the school board to go through when selecting a superintendent.

Once a group of finalists are selected from the applicants, the board will go through an interview process that will likely include an opportunity for the candidate to meet with citizens, students and staff.

It’s important to remember that a superintendent candidate will be looking for a good fit as well, Vogel said.

“They need to like what they see as well,” he said.

After the community meeting Vogel said he was pleased by the comments he heard throughout the day. He was pleased the school board wanted to gather that kind of input.

“It’s a good advantage of the board to have that background information going forward,” he said.

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