After narrowing the selection pool down to two candidates, the Ennis School Board has offered a one-year superintendent contract to retiring Three Forks superintendent John Overstreet.
Overstreet interviewed for the position last week along with Ennis’ current high school principal John Sullivan. While neither Overstreet nor Sullivan initially applied for the job when it first opened, the board, school staff members and the members of the community all made it clear that choosing either one of the well-qualified candidates was the best decision, albeit a difficult one.
Overstreet had previously served as district superintendent for Ennis from 1990 to 1994 before moving on to Three Forks. He had originally planned to retire in June before recently being approached by members of the Ennis community.
“Some good people from Ennis called and encouraged me and thought maybe I could help out, so I decided to at least come over and take a look,” Overstreet said.
Those in attendance during both Overstreet and Sullivan’s interviews had only positive things to say about both candidates. High school teacher Marilyn Jenkins spoke highly of both candidates, sharing with the audience an anecdote about when Overstreet left the district years ago.
“I have 30 plus years of experience, and I will tell you that it is the only time in a unit of teachers that we wrote a letter of regret to the board for losing our superintendent,” said Jenkins.
“And if he meant that much to the kids, he meant that much to the staff,” she continued. “And I kept a copy of that letter, because it’s never happened in my experience before.”
Others who attended the interviews shared concerns about what direction Sullivan might go should the board offer the superintendent contract to Overstreet. While some worried that Sullivan would look elsewhere for a superintendent position, others felt it could be an ideal situation for Sullivan to transition into the position under Overstreet’s mentorship in the near future.
Ennis math teacher Jack Mueller voiced his concern with the board.
“I think he’s an essential part of this community and this staff and the administration,” Mueller said. “If he puts his mind to something he’s going to do it and he’s going to do it right.”
“Sully has shown a lot of interest now in this position, I think he’s got the superintendent idea in his head and I don’t want to lose him,” Mueller continued. “I think Mr. Overstreet is a great candidate, but will Sully turn around and be looking for superintendent (jobs) in the near future?”
Trustee Gary Croy approached Sullivan prior to last week’s interviews to discuss just that.
“Mr. Sullivan is an incredible asset to this school, and we all recognize that,” Croy said. “It was my biggest concern that this would somehow slight or insult or make him want to move on if we did not promote him at this time.”
“Mr. Sullivan needs to know from this board that he is a very viable candidate for that position as well,” Croy said.
Business and technology teacher Bradley Mehr asked the board to consider a two or three year plan for the future of the superintendent position.
“If you guys are really strongly considering Mr. Overstreet and you really don’t want to lose Mr. Sullivan, you might want to possibly think of a plan of succession, so both of them know what’s going to happen down the road,” Mehr said.
Ennis resident David Kelley offered his support for both Overstreet and Sullivan.
“I feel so blessed having sat through the interviews and listening to them all, and then here we are with these two wonderful people,” Kelley said. “Imagine them as a team. I think together they can help us enormously.”
Overstreet’s superintendent contract is pending approval from the Montana Teacher’s Retirement System, because he will receive TRS retirement benefits while taking a full salary as district superintendent for Ennis at the same time. Croy emphasized the need to make sure the contract is legal, even if the board has to “get it in blood.” The approved contract would begin July 1.
As for Overstreet, he struggled to contain his enthusiasm towards returning to Ennis.
“I really feel honored to have this opportunity to come back,” he said. “I’m looking forward to coming over and working with the kids, and the teachers, and the school board and the community.”
“Even with the controversy they have had, I think Ennis is probably one of the best small schools in Montana,” Overstreet continued. “Hopefully I can maybe help mend some fences or heal some wounds and get the focus back on the students.”