Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education special meeting (Feb. 18, 2011): Following a week of interviews for the district’s top job, last Friday the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education winnowed the field of six down to three finalists for superintendent: Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania.); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); and Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon).
This week, a team of three trustees – Christine Stead, Susan Baskett, and Glenn Nelson – will be conducting site visits at each of the finalists’ current districts. Each finalist will then return to Ann Arbor to answer questions from the community at separate forums tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, March 5, and have a second interview with the board tentatively scheduled for Sunday, March 6. Immediately following the second interviews, the board will meet in open session to review community input, hear reports on the site visits, and choose the new AAPS superintendent.
Selection of Finalists
The board held its meeting to select finalists at the Courtyard Marriott, 3205 Boardwalk, after completing its last two candidate interviews at that same location. Their meeting agenda included three items: to select finalists, to plan the site visits, and to schedule the final interviews and community forums.
Discussion among trustees circled through those items, and eventually culminated in a decision to move forward with Green, Muñoz, and Redinger as finalists.
The other three candidates interviewed by the board over the course of the week were: William DeFrance (Eaton Rapids Public Schools, Michigan); Paul Long (Pennsbury School District, Pennsylvania); and Manuel Rodriguez (Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland).
Selection of Finalists: Process
Board president Deb Mexicotte recognized Bill Newman and Marlene Davis from Ray & Associates, the consulting firm hired to aid in the superintendent search, and asked them if they had any input on the process the board should use to select finalists.
Newman began by announcing that one of the candidates, Manuel Rodriguez (Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland), had withdrawn from consideration for personal reasons. Mexicotte said the board had enjoyed meeting with Rodriguez, and wished him the best.
Newman then recommended that the board begin their deliberations with a straw poll to see how trustees were thinking about the candidates. Mexicotte asked whether board members should rank their top choices or not, and Newman suggested they should.
Trustees were then asked to write their top three choices in ranked order from among the five remaining candidates. Ballots were collected and passed to Newman, who quickly tallied them and announced that three candidates had risen to the top – Green, Muñoz, and Redinger.
Newman declined to share the candidate rankings, saying only that each of the three finalists had received “well above quorum,” or at least four votes. He also noted that a fourth candidate had been named on at least one of the ballots, but had not received a quorum. There was no discussion of trustees’ rationale for voting for the candidates they’d named on their ballots, or for their rankings of the candidates.
Selection of Finalists: Number of Finalists & Feasibility of Site Visits
The board briefly discussed whether they wanted to try to narrow the number of finalists from the three down to two. Trustee Andy Thomas began by saying that he could not easily rank Green, Muñoz, and Redinger, and would like to see all three again. “All are very strong, and have somewhat different sets of experience and strengths,” he said. “I think it would be worth our time to do site visits for all three.” Trustees Christine Stead and Irene Patalan agreed.
Trustee Simone Lightfoot disagreed, saying she felt only two of the three were strong, and that she would like the board to discuss a way to “consolidate” their decision. Trustee Susan Baskett said she agreed with Lightfoot that two of the candidates being considered were stronger than the third, but that she thought it was important to choose three finalists because the candidates may be involved in searches in other districts at the same time.
Newman confirmed that one of the candidates being considered as a finalist was a candidate in a search by another district on a similar timeline. [The website of Eugene School District 4J in Eugene, Oregon, indicates that Muñoz is currently one of three finalists it is considering for superintendent.]
Trustee Glenn Nelson said he would be in favor of having three finalists, as long as site visits could be conducted expeditiously, so the search process would not be slowed down.
Thomas questioned what value doing site visits brought to the process compared to making telephone calls to the candidates’ districts. In response to Thomas, Baskett suggested that it allowed trustees to meet a group of people selected by the candidates. Touring schools on a site visit, she continued, allows trustees to see informal reactions to the candidates by students, staff members, and parents. Patalan added that it’s useful to see if the schools really seem like how the candidate has portrayed them, “to get the flavor with your own eyes.”
Mexicotte asked if there were trustees who would be interested in doing site visits, and suggested that it would be ideal to have the same group of trustees go to all three sites if possible. Nelson, Stead, and Baskett offered to visit all three sites.
Stead, who travels frequently in her professional life, noted that flight schedules have become more limited, and that making a single circuit from Ann Arbor to Oregon, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and back to Ann Arbor could be a challenge to schedule without layovers or red-eye flights. Board members also noted that possible weather delays could affect the ability to complete three visits efficiently in three parts of the country. After trustees discussed the difficulties inherent in various itineraries, Nelson, Stead, and Baskett confirmed their commitment to do the visits regardless of the travel inconveniences that are posed.
Lightfoot again questioned the necessity of having three finalists instead of two.
Thomas asserted that it is important to offer the public a full range of candidates who are highly qualified, and that he would like to be sure to have a choice between at least two candidates even if one drops out of consideration, or if one of the site visits reveals major concerns.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to select Patricia Green, Michael Muñoz, and Shelley Redinger as finalists for the superintendent position.
Site Visit Planning
Newman advised that the board should give candidates as much warning as possible in terms of the dates of site visits so they can arrange their schedules for the visits accordingly. He suggested that trustees request to meet with specific people, and then allow the candidate to set up those appointments in advance.
Newman then asked trustees who they would like to see on the site visits. Trustees identified the following: a board member; a PTO member; a member of the candidate’s cabinet who had been hired by the candidate; a principal; a teacher; a student; bargaining unit representatives; and the executive secretary.
Newman also suggested meeting briefly with the candidate. Davis added that candidates will reveal something about themselves by how they conduct a meeting with board members during the site visit.
Nelson invited the trustees and the public to send to Mexicotte any questions they would like asked during the site visit. Mexicotte will pass them on to the site visit team. Newman encouraged board members not to leave a site visit with unanswered questions.
Nelson asked when the input from the site visit team would be shared with the full board, and Patalan suggested that during the previous AAPS superintendent search, the site visit reports were part of the final deliberations, after the community forums and second interviews were complete.
Newman stated that in his experience, board members have never found out things on a site visit that the consultants had not already found out, and said the best outcome would be to have a hard choice to make between candidates.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to send a site visit team – consisting of Christine Stead, Susan Baskett, and Glenn Nelson – to each of the candidates’ current school districts before the community forums and second interviews take place.
Community Forums and Second Interviews
Board members asked for input from Newman regarding the process and scheduling of community forums and second interviews.
Forums and Second Interviews: Process for Forums
Newman explained that the forums will be facilitated by Ray & Associates consultants. Community members who attend will be asked to submit questions for the candidates on 3×5 cards provided by the search firm. Then, he said, the consultants will quickly sort the questions to eliminate any redundancy and remove any illegal questions, such as “Do you believe in God?”
Each candidate will meet with the public one at a time; candidates will not appear together. The firm will offer each candidate a chance to speak to the community for three to five minutes, and will then ask the community-submitted questions for the remainder of the 45 minutes. Each candidate will respond to the same questions in the same order, but depending on the length of his or her responses, not all questions may be asked of all candidates.
Newman encouraged board members to attend the community forums, to see how the candidates interact with the public. After each forum, he explained, community members will be given 10 to 15 minutes to complete individual response sheets, which would be copied immediately, and distributed to each board member for review.
Forums and Second Interviews: Process for Second Interviews
Regarding the second interviews, Newman suggested they usually take about an hour, and that trustees’ questions should be tailored to each candidate.
Baskett asked what the nature of second interview questions should be. Newman said he would provide some suggestions to spur thinking, but that trustees should look over their notes, and think about what more they would like to know from each candidate individually.
Mexicotte suggested that each trustee prepare two questions, and that they look at these interviews as a way to probe that which is most interesting to each trustee about each candidate.
Thomas and Patalan asked for confirmation that trustees would not be meeting ahead of time to agree on questions, and Mexicotte encouraged board members to confer with each other individually as necessary, especially if they think they might be asking the same question that others might have. Mexicotte also suggested that trustees have a third question in mind in case their first two get asked by other trustees. But she reminded the board that the interviews will only be one hour long.
Thomas asked if someone should review trustees’ questions to ensure they are legal. Dave Comsa, AAPS assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, offered to review them as needed.
Forums and Second Interviews: Schedule
After all calendar conflicts for the week of Feb. 28 were laid on the table, it became clear that the board had only two options for conducting the final pieces of the superintendent search: (1) completing everything in one day on Wednesday, March 2, or (2) splitting the pieces up over parts of two weekend days – the afternoon of Saturday, March 5 and the morning and afternoon of Sunday, March 6.
One suggestion was to move the interviews and forums to the following Saturday, March 12. That was strongly discouraged by Newman, who counseled the board, “The way to lose a candidate is to not move quickly.”
Board members weighed the benefit of holding the community forums on a Saturday, when they hoped more members of the public could attend, against the possible inconvenience to the candidates of the split schedule option. The inconvenience would involve staying in Ann Arbor overnight, as well as interviewing on Sunday morning, when some people might have religious obligations.
Also, it was pointed out that if the forums and interviews took place on Wednesday, March 2, the entire agenda for the regular board meeting scheduled for that evening would need to be postponed. However, board secretary Amy Osinski pointed out that there is one time-sensitive item on the March 2 agenda that cannot wait. If the final superintendent vote were made at the March 2 regular board meeting, the board would need to vote on at least the time-sensitive item at the start of the meeting, before settling the question of the superintendent selection.
Newman advised that the three finalists would likely be able to work with any schedule the board put together, but that he would need to confirm with them before the board could commit to any dates.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to request that candidates each attend a community forum on Saturday, March 5 and a second interview with the board on Sunday, March 6. If not all of the candidates are available on March 5-6, then Wednesday, March 2 will be a backup date.
Community Forums and Second Interviews: Location
Board discussion assumed that the second interviews would take place at the Balas administration building on South State Street, but the location of the community forums was less certain.
Trustees brainstormed options for the community forums, including the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, or a cafetorium, annex, or theater at one of the high schools. Nelson suggested that, if the interviews do end up being on Sunday morning, a central location might work better.
All agreed that the location depended on which day or days the candidates could all come back, and that seating should facilitate interaction among participants.
Mexicotte directed Osinski to survey available options.
Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Susan Baskett, secretary Andy Thomas, treasurer Irene Patalan, and trustees Glenn Nelson, Christine Stead, and Simone Lightfoot.
Next regular meeting: (tentatively) Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 7 p.m., at the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.