Champaign board reviewing input on school chief finalists

Champaign board reviewing input on school chief finalists

CHAMPAIGN — Groups of teachers, principals, administrators, administrative assistants, business leaders and other community members spent several days last week interviewing the three finalists for the Champaign school district's superintendent job.

Now that they're done, the school board has lots of evaluation forms and other written feedback to sort through as they begin the decision-making process.

"We're going to get a mountain of paperwork to read over the weekend," said school board President Sue Grey.

Board members will have a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. today (Monday, Dec. 19) at the Mellon Administrative Center and bring their observations from what they read over the weekend.

Each person who met with a superintendent finalist filled out an evaluation form.

The board will also receive notes from group discussions about the candidates.

Central High School Principal Joe Williams was on a team of principals, administrators from the central office and administrative assistants who interviewed the candidates.

He said he found the process different from a typical interview because of the individual forms.

"It forces you to articulate your own opinions first," Williams said. He believes that "strengthened the discussion" because it gave team members a chance to reflect on the candidates first.

The board emphasized to the community groups that met with candidates that they weren't to rank them.

"That's our job," Grey said. Instead, she's hoping the groups recognized the same strengths or qualities that the board found. Similarly, she said, the board hopes the feedback will show whether community members found a certain candidate not right for the job.

"I'm really excited to read that information and that input to see what people thought and how (we did) with our selection," she said.

Laura Weis, president and CEO of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, said nine to 10 business leaders, including someone from Parkland College and someone from the University of Illinois, participated in the chamber's interviews of the candidates.

Their focus was how the school district and business community can work together, and how the candidates may engage the business community.

Those business leaders filled out the district's evaluation form, but also asked some of their own questions, the same for each candidate, Weis said.

"Those who participated, I thought, were very pleased to be a part of the process," she said.

Williams said he appreciated the board's unique approach to interviewing the finalists.

"They could have done it in a more typical manner," he said. "I think they're pretty well aware that they're getting a lot of feedback. I appreciate their commitment to that process."

Grey said that was the point — and the board started at the end of last school year by going to every Unit 4 facility, including its bus barn and to its operations and maintenance workers, to discuss the hiring process.

"We don't want to arbitrarily make a decision," Grey said, and board members have worked hard to show community members "it matters what you think."

Grey said she knows board members will come to tonight's meeting prepared, but they still have quite a bit of material to sort through. She said the board may have one long meeting or break it down into several. However, she said she doesn't believe the board will meet over the holidays, unless the board members "absolutely want to."

Plus, the board will negotiate a contract and create goals for the chosen candidate before that person's name is released to the public.

"There's a lot of pieces there; we don't want to rush it," Grey said, although the board intends to work in a timely fashion. "We want to do it right. ... I think the board absolutely without hesitation wants to do this the right way and to provide the best candidate for Unit 4."

The three finalists are Johnnie Thomas, Darryl Taylor and Judy Wiegand.

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45solte wrote on December 19, 2011 at 9:12 am

Exactly which 'community groups' got to interview candidates???  I thought it was only the interview committee who got to interview candidates.  In a previous article Sue Grey or somebody else from Unit 4 noted that the interviews would not be open to the public, that just the pre-selected Superintendent Search Committee members would be doing the interviews.  Not ALL 'community groups' were aware of any such opportunity available to interview the candidates.  Very disappointing, but, sadly, not surprising.  Same old, same old.  'Community' does not extend, literally, to ALL in the community, when it comes to Unit 4.  Inclusion, transparency, blah blah.  You can talk a good 'converstaion,' do the 'diaglogue'-ing  with all the right buzz words during a an ad-hoc committee meeting addressing a sub-committee panel issue related to super-committee's agenda item B, but, when it comes to the hard work of putting words into practice, time and again, you demonstrate such finesse with torquing people off .  THIS is how you lose community support.  The very support that could transform (public) schools in this community.

ChampaignDad22 wrote on December 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

Sure.  Because announcing the process and how to apply as a representative at board meeting, having articles in the newspaper and having it clearly posted on the FRONT PAGE of the District website just isn't enough.   I have no idea who you are, but to be honest, if you (or the group you represent who didn't feel you were a part of the process because you didn't know) really cared that much, you could have simply gone to the District website, called the District office, e-mailed the District office.  Quit your belly aching about not being a part of the process, blah, blah, blah.  You missed the boat.  It's your fault.  And the boat was actually a very large, hard to miss boat in this case.  And, before you reply, I'm not interested in hearing how the District had some responsibility to put notices on MTD buses, billboards on Prospect, announcements in church bulletins, etc.  To be a part of the community that wants a voice and then to not do some very simple things to look how you can be involved without someone coming directly to you and holding your hand is getting very, very old.  You simply are starting this conversation because you are getting ready to not be happy with ANY choice made by the District.  Again - in case you haven't gotten my point - if you care that much, you would have known this very important decision was going to be made and that it was NOT a short process.  This was NOT something that happened over the course of one month, two months, three months, four months - it has been SEVERAL months.  ENOUGH ALREADY WITH COMPLAINING ABOUT THE DISTRICT AND THEIR COMMUNICATION WHEN YOU WON'T DO ANYTHING POSITIVE.  YOUR NEGATIVITY NEEDS TO GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. 

45solte wrote on December 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I did apply for the committee.

I did attend community forums.

Nowhere was it advertised to my knowledge that 'community groups' would have the opportunity to interview candidates.  Since you know where this information was shared, please point me in the direction, and I am sorry if this truly is an oversight on my part. 

This is the impression I got from Unit 4, per Unit 4 statement to the News Gazette:

Committee of community members (so listed) to interview the candidates.  'Technically open to the public,' but, occurring behind closed doors (whatever that means).

It's okay that you are unaware of the countless volunteer hours I have put in at Unit 4 over the years.  But, from therein rises my strong negative reaction, because I am involved and do care about ALL students. 

45solte wrote on December 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm

'The school board will interview the finalists next week, said a press release from the district, with help from a committee of community members. Board President Sue Grey said the meetings will be technically open to the public, but the interviews will happen behind closed doors.

That committee includes Nathaniel Banks, Laurie Bonnett, Charles Burton, Joan Dixon, Peter Fox, Ginny Holder, Charles Larenas, Pat Lewis, Rebecca Motley, Prue Runkle, Ryan Searby, Jennifer Shelby, Seth Swartz, Mirelsie Velazquez, Scott Walter and Barb Wilson.

The school board selected those individuals for the committee after they applied early in the search process. Grey said more than 50 people applied, and some of those have already participated in focus groups.

Questions for the superintendent candidates may be addressed to through Sunday.

The committee will evaluate each candidate on the profile the district's search firm developed using more than 1,000 responses to a committee survey distributed at the beginning of the superintendent search.

"Each committee interviewer will submit a feedback form to the board of education based on how the candidate matches the criteria in that profile," the district's press release stated.'


December 9th this is released to the press, and the deadline to submit questions to these specific candidates is December 11th.  They clearly had these interviews scheduled before the 9th.  I guess 2 days is ample time and anybody who doesn't think that's enough time should just be quiet and go away and not be the least bit frustrated that contrary to what was being told publicly (as far as I can find, but, I may be wrong), 'community groups' were in fact meeting with the candidates.  Something we were told at those forums (you accused me of not attending) was not going to happen. 

45solte wrote on December 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Ok.  Here is what I find (date unclear) on Unit 4's website announcing the finalist candidates:

'Several more groups representing the community will be involved in the interview process. Representatives of the City of Champaign, the Chamber of Commerce, the University of Illinois and Parkland College have all been invited to participate. In addition, groups such as Champaign Administrative Educators Association (representing administrators and administrative assistants) the Champaign Federation of Teachers, the Champaign Educational Support Personnel, Unit 4 central office administrators will be involved.'

How and when were these commnunity groups selected?  It was not an opportunity open to all community groups.  'Well, you had the opportunity...'  will be walked out when all is said and done, but, no, not really.  So let's not remember this as something it ultimately wasn't.

pattsi wrote on December 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

The N-G has shed disappointingly little daylight on the fact that the in-house candidate's application was accepted after a publized application deadline by the hired consulting firm. After which one of the four candidate's withdrew. There may or may not be a correlation. In addition, there was no observable effort to arrange an interview opportunity with the candidates and the people most effected by a new superintendent--the children and parents--randomly chosen, especially those who are bussed for long periods of time to balance the school populations. It is not clear as to the importance of the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders holding interviews compared to all of the property taxpayers and those who pay 1% more tax to support the schools. The N-G could play a very effective role in moving these processes into the sunshine, simply by sponsoring an open forum.

ChampaignDad22 wrote on December 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

"In addition, there was no observable effort to arrange an interview opportunity with the candidates and the people most effected by a new superintendent--the children and parents--randomly chosen, especially those who are bussed for long periods of time to balance the school populations."

Seriously???  No observable effort??? Perhaps you are too myopic.  There was more effort on this than I've seen from the board in years as to how to become part of the process.

"It is not clear as to the importance of the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders holding interviews compared to all of the property taxpayers and those who pay 1% more tax to support the schools. The N-G could play a very effective role in moving these processes into the sunshine, simply by sponsoring an open forum."

Ah. Yes.  Because Unit 4 is in its own little vacuum.  No connection should be made to the greater community.  The second largest employer in the county should not open up to any of the commerce movers and shakers.  That makes total sense.  Not.  Your argument is moot.

pattsi wrote on December 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

Your bravado is very interesting. You do not seem to be a bit concerned about the application process, nor the manner in which people were chosen for membership in the interview committee. Equally interesting might be to better understand your vested interest in the district.