After meeting in closed session for two hours Monday night, the Williston Public School District No. 1 school board ended the meeting without choosing a new superintendent.
Four board members — Kimberly Semenko, Sara Kasmer, Brion Norby and Heather Wheeler — and a five-member hiring committee heard from William Wade, Shawn Wightman, Scott Faul and Jeffrey Thake on Sunday and Monday. The four finalists were announced May 14 at the board’s monthly meeting.
Wade is an associate superintendent for Santa Fe public schools, while Wightman and Thake are both superintendents of districts. Wightman heads Marysville Public Schools in Michigan, while Thake works for Amboy Public Schools in Illinois. Faul is the principal of Magic City Campus High School in Minot.
On Monday evening, the board met at the district office in executive session to discuss contract negotiations. After the session ended, Semenko, the board president, said no contract had been offered, but she expected a decision in the next several days.
The board will have to vote to offer a contract.
The interviews, which lasted between 90 minutes and two hours, covered a range of topics, from the experience of the four to their philosophy about resolving conflict and communicating with the public.
Board members asked a series of questions, including how each candidate would develop a good relationship with the school board, how the candidates have handled unpopular but educationally necessary decisions and about each candidate’s experience dealing with diverse communities.
The new superintendent will take over from Kevin Klassen, who was named interim acting superintendent on May 3.
Michael Campbell, the previous superintendent, announced earlier this year he was retiring. On May 3, a lawyer for the district told board members that Campbell had asked the day before to use leave time to fill out his contract. Campbell started in July 2016, replacing Viola LaFontaine, who was superintendent of District 1 for seven years.
The last six months of Campbell’s tenure were marked by clashes with the school board. In November, the board voted 5-0 to approve a letter of reprimand that claimed, among other things, that Campbell had made disparaging comments about a board member and that he had failed to follow directions the board had given him.
Among the issues discussed during the interview were the increasing enrollment in District 1 and the lack of space. The district expects about 240 high school seniors to graduate this weekend, and has projected between 400 and 500 new kindergarteners entering in the fall.
In March, the public voted down a proposed bond that would have paid for two new elementary schools and an addition to Williston High School.
Wade, who is associate superintendent of School Support, Innovation, and Athletics for Santa Fe public schools, spoke how he would evaluate the district’s strengths and weaknesses in their first year on the job.
He said he had a 90-day entry plan and that he would start by listening.
“Observation is the key,” he said. “Listening is the key.”
Wade said that when coming into a new district, it’s important to go through the data and to listen to what district administrators, teachers and parents have to say.
“Find out what’s working,” he said. “Find out what’s strong. Protect what’s working. Protect what’s strong.”
He also talked about his experience dealing with two schools merging when he worked in Philadelphia. Wade worked at Martin Luther King Jr. High School when it’s longtime rival, Germantown High School, closed and the students were transferred to that school.
Despite the predictions of problems, the school was able to increase the graduation rate and and improve attendance.
“We listened and talked to the community,” he said.
That approach has informed most of what he’d done in his career, he said.
“Whatever decision we’re trying to make, everyone wants to be heard,” Wade said.
That means listening to people and respecting different opinions.
“I don’t move forward until we build consensus,” Wade said.
Wightman, superintendent of Marysville Public Schools in Michigan, also said he had a plan for if he were hired. He said it might take up to a year to make decisions about what was working and what wasn’t in the district. But, he said, that time was important.
“The worst thing that any new super can do is to come in here and to make decisions quick,” he said. “Not only does that make people who work for the school district uncomfortable, but, to me, it’s offensive.”
He spoke about the importance of being transparent in dealing with the board, district employees and the public, as well as being highly visible.
Wightman said it’s important for him to treat people fairly and to communicate about problems when they arise. He also vowed to be out in the community as much as possible.
“For me, it’s important for the community to see the superintendent.”
Wightman also spoke at length about his work on determining the right curriculum for his current district and on finding the right tools to assess teachers and students.
The goal of spending time looking for the curriculum that works best is to support students and teachers and make sure districts progressively improve.
“All of my work has been turnaround leadership and going from good to great,” he said.
Faul, the principal of Magic City Campus High School in Minot, talked about the work he’d done to increase the number of internships available to students. There will be 23 students taking part in internships next school year, for example.
He said he’s tried to increase the number of connections between the school district and places like Minot State University and other businesses in order to help boost Minot’s career and technical education program.
Faul has been part of Minot’s growth and evaluation team and has worked on ways to improve student engagement.
“We’ve seen teachers become much more aware of engaged students,” he said.
He said he’s spent 10 years as a high school principal, including seven years as head of Magic City Campus. He’s always aspired to be a superintendent, though, and the position appealed to him because he’s from northwest North Dakota.
“I believe that the time is right,” he said.
He also told the board that his experience as a principal and serving on the boards of professional organizations helped prepare him.
“I think I’ve had really good experience leading a large staff,” he said.
He said his philosophy is to always keep learning and coming up with new ways of teaching students.
“I consider myself the lead learner in our school.” he said.
Thake, the superintendent of the Amboy, Illinois school district, passed out a packet with a plan to the board members. He said he’d been studying Williston since the opening was posted. He said he wanted to better understand the district’s financial situation and enrollment trends.
“I want to be very thorough and very detailed,” he said.
He spoke about his experience leading the Amboy schools to start personalized learning, where students are able to set their own pace for learning. The district was featured in a case study, and he spoke about how the district started small and expanded. But, he said, just because that happened where he works now doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the right choice for Williston.
“I’m going to be a listening and learning campaign for probably the first 90 days,” he said.
One of the main reasons for taking that time is to give him a chance to understand what goals community members, parents, teachers, administrators and board members have.
“I like having a lot of voices when making a decision, especially as a new superintendent in a new district,” he said.
He also spoke about how important he thought it was for teachers and administrators to feel they have the ability to make changes based on their best judgment.
“The worst mistake you can make is to not take any risk,” he said.