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Search for next superintendent is under way

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SMITHFIELD — Johnston school leaders last week officially launched their search for the county’s next superintendent of schools.

The N.C. School Boards Association will conduct the search, which began last Wednesday with a job-vacancy posting on the association’s website. “The Johnston County Board of Education is seeking a superintendent to lead the school system as it continues its pursuit of excellence,” the posting begins.

After briefly describing Johnston County and its schools, the posting describes what the Board of Education is looking for in a superintendent. Among other things, the successful candidate must demonstrate ability and success in:

• Visionary educational leadership, including an understanding of equity factors and the influence of equity on educational outcomes.

• Curriculum and instruction.

• Goal-setting and monitoring achievement.

• Fostering community and intergovernmental partnerships.

• Administration and organization of short-term and long-term strategic planning, budgeting, and personnel and facilities management;.

• Strong communication and effective team-building skills.

• Procuring additional funding.

• Visibility and involvement in community activities.

• Leadership in maintaining safe and orderly school environments.

• Planning and funding of school facilities.

• Decision-making, delegation and follow-through.

“Central office and building-level experience are preferred,” the posting adds. “A doctorate degree or progress toward a doctorate degree is preferred but not required.”

The School Boards Association will accept applications until 11:59 p.m. March 9. Along the way, the association will compile the applications and gather additional information on the applicants, including college transcripts.

“Once we get them all compiled, we will release everything we have to the board,” Allison Schafer, who will oversee Johnston’s search, told school leaders last week. “We do not do any screening. That’s your job.”

But to help the board screen applicants, the School Boards Association will survey Johnston school system employees and county residents to learn what they want in a superintendent of schools.

“The questions are the same,” Schafer said, “but we try to get the answers separate so you can see the staff’s concerns as distinguished from the community concerns.”

It’s unlikely that Johnstonians will know who the next superintendent is until the school board makes the hire.

Under North Carolina law, Schafer said, the school board cannot release the names of applicants without their consent. And in her experience, Schafer said, that’s unlikely to happen because applicants tend to prefer that their current bosses not know they’re looking elsewhere.

“So it’s really important that the board keep confidential who the applicants are,” she said.

Also, the school board is likely to interview applicants somewhere outside the county. That’s what the School Boards Association recommends, Schafer told Johnston school leaders in an earlier meeting.

“We never recommend you interview at the central office,” she said. “We try to find a confidential site.”

Of course, school boards cannot get around the state law that requires them to announce their meetings in advance, Schafer said. “So we often recommend you have it at a hotel or somewhere where there’s traffic so that it’s not obvious who the candidates are,” she said.

But while the search will likely be secret, it will be broad.

“I want to point out that the community, our employees have been very vocal,” said school board member Terri Sessoms. “They want us to look outside of the school system; they want a national search. And I support that because I believe that our children deserve the best. Not that we don’t have the best already here in Johnston County, but we owe it to our children to at least look.”

Schafer gave each board member a wallet-size card telling them how they can see the applications as they come in. But they shouldn’t expect too many right away, she said.

“Because in my experience, about half of them come in the last day, because these are busy people with busy schedules,” Schafer said.

She told school board members not to worry: “We will work our hardest to get you a good applicant pool so that you can make a good choice.”

Johnston will pay the School Boards Association no more than $21,500 to conduct the search.