BELPRE - About two dozen residents participated Saturday in the third and final interviews of the three contenders for the open superintendent position in the Belpre City Schools District.
"These are three excellent candidates and whoever the board hires will be a good superintendent for us," said former board member Larry Block.
The morning meeting included a 90-minute question and answer session with candidates Thomas Gay, William McKinney and Tony Dunn led by Kendall Lee, search consultant for the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), who aided the Belpre City Schools Board of Education in the search.
Superintendent candidates speak to residents
"As moderator, my job here is to make sure everybody plays safe in the sandbox," said Lee, who led previous meetings with the community, district teachers and staff about what they wanted in a new superintendent.
During the meeting, all three candidates voiced a desire to become part of the Belpre community when asked how a superintendent would be accessible and visible in the district.
"Just being here is important. Being part of the community is very, very important and being at events including being in the schools with the kids," said Dunn. "When the kids know you and can introduce you to their parents, it really helps.
Kendall Lee, search consultant for the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), far left, asks candidates, from left to right, Tony Dunn, William McKinney and Thomas Gay questions pertaining to the open Belpre Schools District superintendent position during a public meeting and interview session on Saturday. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"I have talked to the board members and have their perspective and need to talk to the leaders, but also the parents and the kids," he added.
McKinney, who was raised in Belpre and graduated from Belpre High School, said he already knows many members of the community and knows that becoming part of the community is an important challenge to the new superintendent.
"It is important to engage the community," McKinney, director of Highlands Community Learning Center in Columbus, said. "Being out in the community becoming involved in civic and social organizations is essential.
"It is a critical factor that you put your roots down here and are active in the community," he said.
Gay, president and CEO of The Quality Schools Group near Detroit, Mich., said trust and perception were two things that came up in conversations he had with members of the community during the past few weeks.
"I was here (Friday) in the community and talking to people and there are some issues where the superintendent can serve as a huge partner with civic organizations. It's not something you do for show, but when you truly care about moving the community forward," Gay said. "By everybody working together, the perceptions and trust will improve and I am committed in creating the partnership between the board and community."
McKinney continued that trust and mistrust come down to communication.
"From some of the concerns I've heard, that some of the people are not always engaging with our teachers," he said. "We have to somehow bridge the gap that the community trusts and believes in the teachers and district."
Dunn said he has to be communicated to in order to communicate back.
"If I know where you are coming from and what you expect, I will be able to communicate what I am about and who I am about and show you the things I can and cannot do," Dunn said. "When people see you doing the right thing and moving forward with your kids, it goes a long way."
Gay said his conversations with community members led him to believe that the community does not feel like part of the school district.
"It needs to start with staff because they need to see true leadership with their superintendent serve meals in the cafeteria, be on the playground with the children," he suggested. "If people see you doing those things and having a good time and not just for show, it brings a huge response."
Along with being asked what celebrity they most identified with, the candidates agreed that the new superintendent needs to be more open with not only the community, but also the media in order to get information out in the community and to also help pass levies.
"It's all about producing value and what the schools provide for the community, we have to convince people of that it's not a sales job, it's a mission," Dunn said. "Once people understand what we provide, then they generally get behind the district."
Gay added that a levy, which the Belpre school district has not been able to pass in more than a decade, is about getting the message of what is necessary out into the community.
"Belpre is going to have a levy, a levy is inevitable. There are a lot of reasons for people to vote no, even on the best of levies, but if you make people feel part of the schools in this community then you have more chance of passing," Gay said.
Following the interviews, Belpre Safety-Service Director Dave Ferguson said the school board has a difficult job in choosing which candidate will be the new superintendent on Aug. 1 after current superintendent Harry Fleming leaves.
"It seems that all of them are looking to make a better Belpre," Ferguson said.
The three candidates were recommended to the board by the OSBA along with three other candidates: Andrew Brooks, director of special education at Warren Local Schools, with 27 years of educational experience; Tony H. Meinerding, former superintendent with Holgate Local Schools in Holgate, Ohio, with 21 years of experience; and Lisa A. Carmichael, superintendent of Massillon City Schools in Massillon, Ohio.
Carmichael withdrew herself from consideration before the board could begin interviews more than two weeks ago. The other five candidates went through the first round of the interview process.
Although the OSBA did the preliminary work in the superintendent search and made recommendations as to who is best suited for the position, the Belpre school board will make the ultimate decision.
The school board plans to announce the new superintendent during the March 21 board meeting.