Wanted: a strong relationship-builder with exceptional communications skills who is willing to take a financial hit if they are moving from a big city or the Front Range.
A focus group held Thursday among Durango School District 9-R principals, charter school leaders and central administrators illustrated the attributes the next superintendent will need if he or she is chosen.
“The key is communication. They should be experts in finance, human resources and instruction, but communication is the piece that ties it all together,” said Bradley Hardin, principal of Big Picture High School.
Clarity in messaging is essential said Riverview Elementary School Principal Lindsay Neiman: “They should have a clear, shared vision. If a leader can communicate that, the other pieces fall into place.”
After communication skills, the group focused on relationships.
“We should have someone who is strong at relationship-building,” said Sean Woytek, Animas High School head of school. When you develop healthy relationships, you’re building trust.”
Instilling trust with stakeholders gives an organization the ability to move quickly, said Dylan Connell, 9-R director of curriculum instruction and assessment.
“A superintendent has to be a good collaborator. They need to take their information base and use it to be a good collaborator,” said Heather Houk, president of The Juniper School board of directors,
The focus group is one of 11 meetings school board members are having through next week with different stakeholders seeking input in the superintendent search.
Board members are meeting with 9-R support staff members, teachers, retired 9-R teachers, former school board members, parent-teacher organizations and the business community. The plan is to hire the next superintendent in early April.
In mid-November, Dan Snowberger, who will have served for nine years when he leaves in June 2021, announced this would be his last year with the district.
The average tenure for a superintendent in Colorado is 2.3 years.
Longevity and commitment are things the school board should prize, the group administrators told Kristin Smith and Erika Brown, the school board representatives who attended the Zoom meeting.
“As far as qualifications, a body of evidence that shows success and commitment is more important than a title. If you see someone with 1½-year stops, you know you’re looking at a stone-stepper,” Houk said.
The board should also be direct with candidates that leading the district will be the focus of intense attention.
“Whoever we hire has to get used to the reality of the grocery store: If you go to the grocery store, you are going to be recognized. It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Laurie Rossback, principal of Needham Elementary School. “You are a public figure in a way you wouldn’t be in a larger community. Some people do really well with that, some people have a difficult time with it.”
Durango’s high cost of living and lower salaries compared with the Front Range also are important to convey.
“To work in Durango, you have to want to be here,” Escalante Middle School Principal Jeremy Voss said. “Any principal here can move to the Front Range and make more money. They should expect to have some financial impact if they move here. I’m up front with teachers about that so there isn’t sticker shock.”
Finally, staff members said a superintendent search necessarily puts strain on the district’s rank and file.
“The school board should think about the stress that something like this causes,” Hardin said. “It’s a stressful time for principals, teachers, students who wonder who they will we be working with. ... If we find the right person, we’re moving in the right direction for the next five years. If not, we’re sitting around the table saying, ‘Now, what?’”