VCSD gets 19 ‘certified and qualified’ applicants for superintendent

Voorheesville Superintendent Brian Hunt

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Voorheesville Superintendent Brian Hunt announced in January that he would be retiring at the end of the school year. The school district has received applications from 19 candidates to replace him. 

VOORHEESVILLE — At a time when superintendent candidates are becoming harder and harder to come by, the Voorheesville Central School District has received 19 “certified and qualified” candidates for its open position, Anita Murphy, the district superintendent of Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, told The Enterprise this week.

The district hired BOCES to help with its superintendent search

“I want you to know that I think we have a very good applicant pool, with highly-qualified folks to interview,” Murphy said.

The current superintendent, Brian Hunt, earned $140,000 in 2015, when he was hired, and this year will earn about $148,000.

When the search process began, the public was told it would be closed — not involving faculty and community stakeholders — because there would be a limited number of candidates seeking superintendent positions. However, Murphy told The Enterprise this week, the 19 applicants Voorheesville received was a “good number in a search.”

The school board at its meeting earlier this month had heard from Murphy about the results of a recently-closed community survey that asked respondents what they are looking for in a new superintendent.

According to the district’s own timeline, it would like to have a candidate hired by the end of next month to start work in July.

In January, Hunt said he would be retiring at the end of this school year. At the time, Hunt told The Enterprise that he made the announcement long before he was contractually obligated to do so to give the district and school board as much time as possible to find a new superintendent.  

At the beginning of the search process, the district and school board were advised by BOCES that the search for a new superintendent must confidential, a move that roiled some stakeholders who have been traditionally involved in selecting school administrators.

Murphy told The Enterprise on Tuesday that the open searches conducted by BOCES were yielding fewer applicants, while searches that were confidential had been receiving nearly as many applicants as Voorheesville.

Involving stakeholders

At the April 8 school board meeting, Murphy tried to assuage at least part of the stakeholder-involvement problem.

She acknowledged that community involvement in the search was important, but stressed the need for a confidential search in a very tight market for superintendents.

Among the 145 responses to an online survey, Murphy said, were some suggestions about how, amid a confidential search, the community can still be involved in hiring a new superintendent.

One idea for stakeholder input, she said, was to let parents, teachers, and administrators submit questions in advance that the board could ask potential candidates; the answers could then be discussed in a community forum.

Another idea was to present to the public the entry plan of potential candidates, and then use that feedback in the hiring process. An entry plan is typically a guide written by the new superintendent that helps hold him or her accountable for any goals he or she may set out to accomplish in, say, the first 90 or 100 days.

“Of course, nothing is final and what I say here tonight are just some ideas that we have,” Murphy had said before presenting some of the community-involvement ideas.

As for the online survey itself, respondents were asked what strengths the new superintendent should have as well as what issues or improvements he or she should tackle first. In addition, respondents were asked to describe the personal characteristics and attributes that a new superintendent should have.

Survey respondents asked that the new superintendent be a “visionary,” Murphy said, someone who can keep Voorheesville “a top-level school in the Capital Region.”

Murphy said that a new superintendent should be somebody who has the ability to lead and to make changes. The new superintendent should also be a strong fiscal and financial manager who holds staff accountable, she said, and be someone who has the ability to manage a tight budget and capital improvements.

Respondents asked for someone who will take the time to get to know the community and work to establish trust between the community, teachers, administration, and school board. “That’s a really important thing that we saw over, and over, and over,” Murphy said.

The respondents also want someone who will look at safety (the school resource officer position is being proposed for elimination for next year) as well as the physical and emotional health of students.

Consistently seen in the responses, Murphy said, was that people want the new superintendent to be accessible and to have a strong sense of community.

Improvements that the community would like to see, Murphy said, “centered really around communication.” The flow of communication between residents in the community, parents, teachers, and the board, she said.

A new superintendent should have excellent communication skills, she said. “We heard this over, and over, and over,” Murphy said, “the idea someone should be listening is really important — and paramount.”

Survey respondents also said there was a need for:

— Additional and improved technology;

— Improvements to facilities; and

— Coordination of curriculum between the elementary and middle schools, and between the middle and high schools.

What a difference a few weeks makes

In March, the board had been told by BOCES that the pool of applicants would be very limited.

At a forum earlier in March, representatives from BOCES said that there were just fewer people who were lining up to be superintendents. Adding that the problem has been compounded by a number of recent retirements, and, if that weren’t enough, there are so many current superintendents who are at or near retirement age, that it doesn’t appear the pool will be replenished any time soon.

While Voorheesville appears to be an exception to the rule, the lack of superintendent candidates has been a problem in many states, and one that is not new.

In neighboring Massachusetts, the superintendent shortage has been described as hitting “crisis levels.”

And, as far back as the year 2000, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, “State educators and lawmakers devote[d] so much time and attention to dealing with teacher shortages that a looming deficit of qualified school superintendents has gone practically unnoticed.”

At the time, there were about 14,300 school superintendents in the country, and most of them had started their careers as teachers during the Vietnam War era. “An astounding 82 percent of superintendents have already reached retirement age,” Pew reported back in 2000.

There is also the stress and pressure that comes with being the chief executive officer of a school district, dealing with parent expectations, tight budgets, and testing requirements, that has led to an exodus from the profession.

But, what Voorheesville does have going for it, attendees of the March 7 forum were told, is that it is a very desirable school district to both live in and work for.


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