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Morgan Hill
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February 9, 2023

Superintendent search top item for trustees

Advice on the hiring of a new superintendent – everything from
interview questions to potential red flags – seemed to be top
priority during a retreat Friday for the Morgan Hill School Board.
The board held a special meeting from 1-7pm, designed to be a
retreat for them to learn about one another, discuss the search for
a new superintendent and begin setting board goals.
“From day one, I want to build a relationship between the new
superintendent in the board, build the allegiance this new person
has to the board,” Board President Shellé Thomas said. “I want to
make sure it’s a strong message we’re sending to the community that
change has happened.”
Advice on the hiring of a new superintendent – everything from interview questions to potential red flags – seemed to be top priority during a retreat Friday for the Morgan Hill School Board.

The board held a special meeting from 1-7pm, designed to be a retreat for them to learn about one another, discuss the search for a new superintendent and begin setting board goals.

“From day one, I want to build a relationship between the new superintendent in the board, build the allegiance this new person has to the board,” Board President Shellé Thomas said. “I want to make sure it’s a strong message we’re sending to the community that change has happened.”

Trustees typically hold a retreat-style meeting once a year. Last year’s meeting, held March 15, 2004, was marked by the resignation of former Trustee Tom Kinoshita and a tense atmosphere related to a recall attempt of four trustees. Friday’s retreat, however, was more relaxed, with a less-structured format.

Facilitator Molly McGee Hewitt, a governance consultant for California School Boards Association (CSBA), offered trustees examples of situations she has encountered over the years.

In talking about a perception the public sometimes has that boards are merely “rubber-stamping” the wishes of the administration, Hewitt said what many are unaware that trustees have usually “done their homework,” asking questions of the staff about issues on the agenda beforehand and reading staff reports.

“What do people want to see – they want to see intelligent, dedicated people discussing issues,” she said. “We need to have methods of deliberating. We need transparent leadership – so the public understands what has gone before, where you got the information, was it data driven.”

A good portion of the retreat focused on the search for a superintendent to replace Carolyn McKennan when her contract expires June 30. Trustees will interview selected applicants for the position during special meetings this weekend.

Trustee Mike Hickey asked how trustees could avoid hiring someone who says one thing in an interview, but acts differently once hired.

Hewitt said a visit to the applicant’s home district, if he or she is a sitting superintendent, will help trustees learn what the applicant will be like.

“Once you have someone in place, I would highly recommend a workshop like this with the new superintendent,” Hewitt added. “That is a good place to discuss the superintendent’s style, to discuss more thoroughly your expectations, to discuss protocol – all those kinds of issues, plus to do what we have been doing here, to get to know more about each other.”

Trustees then individually made lists of what they think they need in a new superintendent, what they want in a new superintendent and what they want to avoid at all costs in a new superintendent. Individual thoughts were added to a group list, which was then discussed and ranked in importance.

Some of the needs the board listed included: success in teaching state standards so school baselines improve, strong communication skills, someone who is a team-builder and a motivator.

Among the “wants” trustees listed were: experience as a superintendent, willingness to live in the community and participate in community events, experience in obtaining grants.

What trustees wanted to avoid in a superintendent were: cronyism, someone who is or appears to be closed off.

The retreat was also a time for trustees to get to know one another better, to discuss issues in a relaxed setting.

At the beginning of the meeting, trustees introduced themselves, telling the others why they decided to run for the board.

“I ran because I wanted to be a change agent, to represent a community that couldn’t celebrate what was right with the district,” Thomas said. “I want to bring back a sense of respect and trust for public education.”

Trustees Julia Hover-Smoot and Don Moody cited increasing the academic strength of the district as one of the motivating factors in their decisions to run.

Trustees Hickey and Amina Khemici, who were elected along with Thomas in November 2002, said financial leadership was important to them, as well as leveling the academic playing field.

Trustees Peter Mandel and Kathy Sullivan, both elected in November, said what they witnessed while directly or indirectly involved with the district led them to become even more involved. Mandel cited raising academic expectations. Sullivan listed a desire to make sure all levels of students, especially those without support on the homefront, had the chance to succeed.

“But the (attempted) recall was the turning point for me,” Sullivan said.

“Everything you saw was negative in newspapers and in the community. None of the good stuff in the district was being celebrated, and I wanted to point out the positive aspects.”

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