Superintendent search to stay within system

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2001


RESERVE – The St. John Parish School Board began an official search for a new superintendent recently, voting to place advertisements in newspapers statewide and keep the interviewing process in-house. Though board member Russ Wise put up a fight to hire a professional search firm, the board voted to have applicants mail their packets to the school board office and come before the board for interviews. “There’s a good deal of concern in the parish that someone has already been chosen, that minds are already made up,” said Wise. Arguing that there was a need to eliminate “the smell of politics,” Wise suggested that a third party solicit applicants and submit the five best candidates to the board. Wise said he’s heard concerns that there had been “midnight meetings” and “closed-door meetings.” He said he wants to reassure the public that no “smoke-filled” room meetings were going on. “The best thing we can do for people of the parish is to get an outsider who is trained to do this shift through the applications,” he said. Other board members disagreed with hiring an outside firm. Clarence Triche said he really wanted to do the search in-house. “I want to interview each and every one personally,” he said. “This is a small parish,” said board vice-president Charles J. Watkins, “and you have to be accountable for your decision. I want to be a part of the whole process.” Art Smith, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at West St. John High School and a concerned parent, said he doesn’t think the decision should be left completely up to the board. He said he believes the board must be hiding something. “Put the cards on top of the table,” he told the board. “We don’t need you to think for us. We need you to represent us. This is a community decision, and we need to be in the process whole-heartedly from top to bottom.” Board member Matthew J. Ory expressed concern about Smith’s comment. “I’m not comfortable with the fact that the public thinks we’re keeping things from them, but a third party is not dedicated or passionate about helping this parish,” he said. “It’s hard for me to understand that people think we’re holding back. We want to do the best we can. We want someone dedicated to the parish and the area.” The board voted to conduct the process without the use of an outside firm. Watkins suggested advertising regionally in newspapers in the large cities of Louisiana. He said that it would not limit the search to Louisiana, but that possible candidates in the bordering states would have access to those newspapers. The board voted to run the advertisement for three weeks in seven different newspapers in the state. They also chose an advertisement from samples of ads that other parishes ran for the same position. They are hoping to have someone chosen at least a month before current Superintendent Chris Donaldson retires so the new party can spend some time with him before he leaves June 30. All applications will have to be received one week after the last advertisement runs in the state papers. The packets will be sent to the school board office and kept unopened until all have been received. The executive board will then go through them.