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School Board appears close to advertising opening for superintendent

WILLMAR -- Willmar Public Schools could begin advertising for a new superintendent later this week.

The School Board will meet at noon Friday to designate a person in the district to handle applications and keep them confidential. That will pave the way to posting the job opening on the Minnesota School Boards Association Web site and others.

The board will also discuss a timeline for the search and whether to hire a consultant to aid in the search for a successor to Superintendent Kathy Leedom, who plans to retire after the end of this school year. The board approved her retirement resignation a week ago.

The board met Monday with Sandy Gundlach, director of management services for the MSBA, to discuss the mechanics of looking for a new superintendent.

Gundlach provided information about setting a timeline for a search, how to review applications and how to plan an interview session. The typical superintendent search takes four to six months, she said.

It is important that the entire board be involved in the search and interview process, she said. "It's not something that should be delegated to a committee in any way."

The district could hire a consultant who could help recruit prospective candidates and do some initial screening of the applicants, she said. However, the board would still need to define the qualities it is seeking in a superintendent and to do the actual interviewing.

Gundlach urged the board to avoid ranking candidates until the end of the process. Rather, it's more helpful to focus on applicants' strengths and weaknesses and how they relate to the district's needs, she said.

The idea of involving the community spurred some discussion. Some boards survey the school staff and community members before the interview process opens, others conduct focus groups, Gundlach said.

"Willmar has a history of involving administrators and teachers in the interview process," said board member Sandi Unger.

The final decision must still rest with the board, Gundlach said, and there is a problem of how to safeguard private personnel data. She suggested ways staff and the community could be involved, including having "meet and greet" sessions with the candidates invited back to a second interview.

The public will also be able to attend any of the interviews, because they are open meetings of the board, she said.

Minnesota law does not allow boards to close meetings to interview or choose a superintendent, she said. The challenge to the board will be to discuss the candidates without revealing private personnel data, she said.