Haxtun Superintendent search gets underway
February 24, 2021
The search underway for a new superintendent and the possibility of a four-day school week topped discussion at the Tuesday, Feb. 16 Board of Education meeting at Haxtun Schools. Board members met early to allow time for discussion with Randy Zila from McPherson & Jacobson, the executive recruitment and development firm hired to aid with hiring a superintendent to replace Darcy Garretson. Garretson announced her retirement in January.
Two weeks ago, Zila hosted a number of Haxtun stakeholder meetings to gain input on hiring a new superintendent for the coming school year. At the latest board meeting, Zila shared his findings from those meetings with members of the Board of Education. Those meetings, he said, occurred with district staff members, students and the community over a two-day period.
Zila said between the two community stakeholder meetings, nearly 40 members provided feedback with their thoughts on the community as a whole, the school district and characteristics needed for a new superintendent.
“The two focus groups with the community were the largest I’ve seen in a long time,” Zila told the Board. “People certainly want to be a part of the process. This will be one of the most important decisions the Board will make … who will be the next CEO of the District?”
At the meeting last week, Zila tasked board members with making a decision on whether or not to involve a community committee in the interview process while in search of a new superintendent.
Zila was very straight forward with his information, stressing that a community committee could be a part of an interview process with potential candidates, but would not be involved in the decision of selecting a finalist.
“Ultimately, it will be a decision of the Board,” Zila said.
He went on to explain that should the Board decide to involve a community committee, the committee would be made up of seven to eight members who would conduct an hour-long interview of each finalist. From there, the committee would outline strengths of each candidate based on the interview and other information provided including letters of interest, resumes and applications.
The committee is not allowed, he said, to give a final recommendation of which candidate they feel is best suited for the position. That, Zila said, is because the community committee would not have specific candidate details such as background check findings, which is information that will only be shared with the Board. Board members will also have a short video from each candidate, something the community committee would not have access to either.
“The simplest way is to not invite any community into the search,” Zila said. “But I also know we live in a political world and you might have to extend that invite out to the community.”
Board members discussed whether or not to involve a community committee at great length, reflecting on the pros and cons to both situations. While talking about the process, it was noted that in the search for a superintendent in 2002-03, when Jim Poole was hired, the Board at that time handled the search entirely on their own and did not involve a community committee.
“I think we have the expertise on this Board and I think we can make this decision,” Board Member Jay Wisdom said in the discussion. Fellow board member Abby Henry agreed with Wisdom. “It’s an important job but we don’t have very much time to get it done,” Wisdom noted.
Zila offered a middle-ground compromise and suggested an open forum, community meeting in which the top three finalists would gather in a meet and greet style meeting with the community. That’s ultimately the route board members decided to go.
Thus far, seven individuals have submitted applications for the superintendent position. Applications will be accepted through March 10. During a meeting on March 23, board members plan to meet with Zila to sift through applications and whittle them down to the top favorites. From there, three will be chosen for the interview process, slated for April 8 and 9. One of those days will include the community meet and greet with each candidate.
During that time, each candidate will have a short time to introduce themselves before breaking into smaller groups to allow community members time to meet and speak with each candidate separately. Community members will be given a note card to write down strengths of each candidate and those cards will be given to the Board for consideration.
Board interviews with each candidate will be, by law, in open meeting, however, community involvement in the interview process will not be allowed.
A final section is expected on April 13. A superintendent’s contract runs July 1 to July 1.
After discussing the superintendent search, principals Alan Nall and Becky Heinz presented material from the District calendar committee along with information on calendar guidance from the Colorado Department of Education.
Information in the packet included sample calendars from area schools including both four- and five-day districts. According to an in-depth study in August of 2019, Colorado then totaled 178 school districts and of those, 111 utilized a four-day school week, making Colorado the leading State in the Nation for four-day school districts. The two principals also offered pros and cons from the Haxtun calendar committee on a traditional five-day calendar, a modified five-day calendar and a four-day calendar.
Haxtun is currently operating on a modified five-day calendar, which is the least favorite of the local calendar committee.
“This is something we will face when hiring teachers,” Elementary and Junior High Principal Becky Heinz told board members. “Whether you’re for or against, the writing is on the wall.”
Just before talking about the district calendar, board members were given information on upcoming staff retirements over the next two years, which includes six personnel. It was stressed that the list included only those administration knew of at the time of the meeting.
While discussing a four-day school week versus a five-day school week, Superintendent Darcy Garretson and Board Secretary Lynda Firme both spoke openly against a four-day school week for the local District.
After some discussion, board members decided to distribute two surveys, one to staff members and one to community members, to gain further input on a possible four-day school week at Haxtun. Those surveys will be distributed soon with help from the calendar committee and the District Accountability Committee.
In other business the Board:
• Approved the following employment: Trenton Ham, Head High School Baseball; Ryan Nolin, Assistant Baseball; Jared Anderson, High School Track; Paige Thompson, High School Track; Dena Gerk, Junior High Track; Dave Shafer, Junior High Track; Don Schelling, Junior High Wrestling;
• Accepted resignations from Rich Gerk, Physical Education; Riley Smith, Paraprofessional; Barbara Gorman, World Language/ICAP/Online and Concurrent Enrollment; Sherrie Speaker, Elementary Custodian;
• Rescheduled the March meeting for the 23rd;
• Added Lee Salyards to the substitute teaching list;
• Approved a special contract for Garretson as an admin on special assignment from July to October to aide in the transition of a new superintendent.