Collier School Board candidates: What’s next in replacing Dennis Thompson

Rosanne Winter

Staff

Rosanne Winter

Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson listens to school board members discuss his evaluation while reviewing Thompson's contract at a special meeting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administration Building on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson listens to school board members discuss his evaluation while reviewing Thompson's contract at a special meeting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administration Building on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

Should the Collier School Board do a national search for a new superintendent?

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Leading up to the start of early voting Monday, this is one of a series of stories about candidates and issues on the ballot.

— The next Collier County schools superintendent will be chosen, in part, by three people running for the five-member School Board, so the decision will be shaped by those winning on Nov. 2.

The Collier County School Board voted 3-2 in August to not renew Superintendent Dennis Thompson’s contract beyond its July 31, 2011, expiration date. But while the current board decided Thompson wouldn’t stay, it will be up to the new board to determine his replacement.

Current board members have decided the decision on how to proceed on a superintendent search and the job of interviewing prospective candidates should fall to the new board, which will be set following the election of members in Districts 1, 3 and 5.

But that doesn’t mean current board members aren’t exploring options.

Board member Pat Carroll, who is seeking re-election to her District 1 seat, has been having discussions — at the request of her fellow board members — with the Florida School Boards Association to find out about its services.

Carroll said the search the district needs to look to for guidance was the one for Superintendent Ben Marlin, hired in April 2003. At the time, the district hired a search firm at a cost of about $30,000, Carroll said.

“What they did was totally run the search. They came in, met with organizations, community members, School Board members, teachers, principals and district employees. They identified parameters and they looked at people that they thought would match the parameters,” she said. “It was a brand-new board and it served us well.”

But Carroll said the situation this time around has changed a bit. Collier County has a seasoned board and, with the help of the citizens group Connect Now and the district’s strategic plan, board members “have an idea of what the community is looking for.”

Carroll said she believes the Florida School Boards Association could be of service to the board in its search.

“They offer that middle road for us. They don’t provide all the services a national firm would, but they guide the district,” she said.

Carroll said she believes hiring the Florida School Boards Association could also help the district save on costs of hiring someone to do the search. She said she believes the cost is between $7,000 and $8,000.

Carroll said once candidates have applied, she would like resumes and applications of the candidates distributed to different locations around the county so that the public could review them and submit comments.

“It is very important for the School Board to seriously listen to the input of all stakeholders,” she said. “And, of course, our interviews would be open to the public.”

School Board District 1 incumbent Pat Carroll watches the primary elections results at her home on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. Photo by Allie Garza

Photo by ALLIE GARZA

School Board District 1 incumbent Pat Carroll watches the primary elections results at her home on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. Photo by Allie Garza

Carroll’s opponent, retired educator and former Naples High School Principal Rosanne Winter, said she wants a proven leader and someone who believes communication with the community is imperative to success of schools.

Winter believes that the work needs to start before a firm is hired, with the board developing criteria by which the new superintendent would be recruited, hired and evaluated. Winter said that criteria should grow out of the Connect Now community statement and the district’s strategic plan, and should include plans for communication, community partnerships, family-parent involvement and student performance.

Winter said the community should be involved in developing the criteria. She said she would ask members of the Connect Now congress, which represents groups across Collier County, to become involved.

“We need to talk about what we want and what we expect to see,” she said. “We need to have a thorough vetting.”

Winter also believes that the district needs to have a financial audit, a program audit and a position audit before the new superintendent arrives to determine needs. Although the district conducts its own financial audits yearly for the state and audits its programs and staffing needs through the strategic planning process, Winter said she thought a third party should audit the school system.

“We need an outside, objective audit to determine where we are and where we are standing,” she said. “The audits would form a baseline for the new superintendent to operate on.”

Winter said the board should set specific and measurable short-term goals for Thompson, including setting a clear expectation that he will ensure open communication and full disclosure to all auditing personnel.

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Patricia Carroll

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Rosanne Winter

Kathy Ryan

Kathy Ryan

Barbara Berry

Barbara Berry

* * * * * District 3 * * * * *

District 3 candidate Kathleen Ryan, a former Collier County educator who has seen a few superintendents come and go during her employment with the district, said she could foresee beginning with the least expensive option of a local search and Florida School Board Association assistance, but then likely expanding into a national search firm for better candidates.

“The challenge of the Sunshine Law … It can be helped by a national search firm,” Ryan said. “If (a prospect) is already a sitting superintendent, not everyone is interested in divulging they’re interested in a job to their current board.”

The ideal candidate, she said, would have some financial expertise and would be great at managing people, creating a participatory environment.

That person could be found in Florida, she said, adding that the public should have a say in how the new superintendent is chosen.

“I want to go back to what we used to do. We had all kinds of committees,” she said, recalling the process the district used in 2002 when two large public meetings were held involving two superintendent candidates.

Ryan said a committee specific to the selection should be formed at some point and should include as many members as are interested. The size would then determine how it functions, she said.

Some meetings, such as those held by principals and administrators, as well as unions, might be more closed to the public, Ryan said.

Her opponent, former Collier County School Board member Barbara Berry, said public participation is essential when the board decides to choose a new superintendent.

“We kind of know what the public is looking for, so once it’s narrowed down, let the public question the candidates,” she said, adding she would like to see a moderated public forum.

Berry, said she would like to hear what a national search firm could offer the district, while considering what the Florida School Boards Association could offer for a superintendent search.

“I need that information. It’s critical to making a decision,” she said.

Selecting the right criteria — including experience as a superintendent and communication among the superintendent and board, community and employees — for the new superintendent, as well as cost, would be important elements in making the decision, she said.

Berry would like the criteria to be discussed at a workshop rather than a regularly scheduled board meeting so more time can be spent on discussion as opposed to other business issues when board members would likely take time to become independently educated on the issues prior to the meeting.

“A workshop is more conducive to the flow of ideas,” she said.

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Barbara Berry

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Kathleen Ryan

Joe Whitehead

Joe Whitehead

Roy Terry

Roy Terry

* * * * * District 5 * * * * *

District 5 School Board member Roy Terry said a community team must be created to develop a plan of transition from Thompson’s administration to the new superintendent. Terry said he believes the team should have at least one person with educational experience from the district to be on the team as well as community members.

“It would be up to the board to accept or modify the plan,” he said.

Terry said his preference would be to find someone locally to be the superintendent, adding Collier County has many talented candidates. That said, he isn’t opposed to opening up the search to include national candidates.

Terry believes that when finalist candidates are chosen, the district should plan a series of five public interviews around the community.

“We could move around the community, with two or three interviews in the morning and two in the afternoon,” he said. “I think if the public has the opportunity to participate in the hiring process, they will be more likely to accept whoever the School Board chooses.”

Terry said he is looking for a candidate who has the ability to communicate well with people in the community.

Terry’s opponent, retired Naples police detective Joe Whitehead, also has plans for a community committee. He believes the board needs to enlist the help of a community vetting committee, which would have representation from district employees, parents and community members.

The vetting committee, Whitehead said, would be responsible for developing interview questions for the candidates and giving input on the resumes the district received from candidates.

Whitehead said he favors an open field and wouldn’t have a problem hiring a national firm to help find candidates.

“Let everyone come forward with their best,” he said.

Whitehead said he also believes the board should have a discussion about a contract before a new superintendent is chosen.

“I think that we should give the new superintendent a small initial amount in compensation. I think we should match rewards with results,” he said. “I am against golden parachutes. I don’t believe we should reward failure.”

Whitehead said he believes if the district can come up with non-negotiable items for its contract, it will be less likely a candidate would be allowed to negotiate for something that proves to be a frivolous expense of tax money.

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Joe Whitehead

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Roy Terry

* * * * * Related content * * * * *

CLICK HERE for early voting times and locations in Collier, Lee counties

■ CLICK HERE FOR ELECTIONS INFORMATION AND A DATABASE OF CONTRIBUTIONS

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