By Heather Mullinix
With Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle set to retire at the end of the school year, the Cumberland County Board of Education is gearing up to conduct a search for the next school leader.
During its annual work session Sept. 29, VanWinkle noted the recommended search timeline took about 24 weeks, and she urged the board to begin the process soon. The first question is how the board will handle the process, including whether or not to request proposals from agencies and firms that conduct such searches.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said, "We need to ask ourselves, number one, do we have the time or are we willing to commit the time to screen the applicants. We could have 100 applications. Who wants to call 100 people's references to narrow the field down to 50 or 25 or wherever we decide we want to go? There's the potential for this to get bigger than all of us could handle."
Another concern was that, if the board handled the screening process, all applications would become part of the public record.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said, "When it comes down to it, there are those who say, 'I don't mind it being known I'm an applicant as long as I'm a finalist. If I'm not a finalist, don't tell people I applied.'"
There were other concerns of the paperwork required to conduct background checks and review personnel files.
Board policy 5.802 sets the qualifications for the director as a person with a professional educator's license, a master's degree in education with preference for a doctorate degree, three years of successful school administration, and other qualifications the board deems desirable. The director reports to the board and supervises all administrative and supervisory personnel in the district.
During discussion it was noted state law requires only a bachelor's degree, and that did not have to be in an educational field.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said, "The majority of complaints that come to me are more on the business side. I think part of that is ignorance of how the finances work between the county and us. They think we need someone with business experience, but then complaints would be about curriculum and the educational side."
Tollett said the most important qualification for a director is being able to work well with other people and to participate in processes and cooperate with those affected.
The board agreed meetings needed to be set up with the community and school personnel to gain input on what they would like to see in a director of schools.
Tollett said, "These meetings are for talking about what we're looking for. The board members need to listen and ask for opinions."
VanWinkle said a search firm could facilitate those meetings, allowing the board members to listen to community comments and concerns.
The board will consider hiring a firm to conduct the search at its next meeting. VanWinkle said she would prepare a request for proposals that could also be approved at that meeting, if the board wished, so that the process could get started as soon as possible.