W-JCC School Board chooses search firm to find new superintendent

WILLIAMSBURG - The firm chosen to lead in the search for Williamsburg-James City County Public School’s next superintendent is expected to heavily involve community input, including public forums and online surveys.

After a short closed session discussion Monday, the School Board chose BWP and Associates for the job. The company, chosen out of seven firms that applied, was awarded the $16,900 contract that includes reimbursable travel expenses.

The board has 180 days from when former superintendent Steve Constantino resigned on Aug. 15 to pick a successor. Constantino left to take a position with the state board of education. Then-deputy superintendent, Olwen Herron, has served as acting superintendent since his resignation.

The Illinois-based educational leadership search has worked in 38 states, including Virginia, according to the firm’s website. The firm lists Williamsburg-James City County Schools as a previous client, though neither the company’s consultant nor the School Board Chairman Jim Kelly knew when the firm was last hired.

The two lead consultants for W-JCC’s search, Kevin Castner and Wayne Harris, have both served as superintendents in Virginia for more than a decade: Castner in Ablemarle County and Harris for Roanoke City Schools.

The consultants have performed superintendent searches for about 15 districts in the last five years, Castner said. The pair is based in Virginia and concentrate on the commonwealth because of their familiarity.

Creating a timeline

Castner said he and Harris are tentatively scheduled to meet with the School Board on Nov. 1, when it will gather at the School Board and central office behind closed doors, though a reason hasn’t been publicly stated, before holding a work session.

Details about the expected time line and what qualities the board members want in a candidate will be decided once they’ve met with the consultants, and weren’t available yet, Kelly said.

Community input isn’t included in every superintendent search, but it is important, Castner said. The consultant must create a list of characteristics for the ideal superintendent by using input from division employees, the community, the city and the county, according to the county’s contract.

“We think the community engagement process should be as inclusive as possible to take input from all facets of the Williamsburg-James City County community,” Castner said. “The search will include open public forums in the evenings for at least two nights and it will have formal survey that will be available to everyone in community electronically.”

He said the search will also include formal reports to the board and developing a profile for the ideal candidate. The position will be advertised as soon as contracts are signed, Castner said, which could be as early as the end of this week.

Public input?

Although an official time line has to be approved by the school board, Castner said he expects the community engagement process to be done by mid-December and the applications from potential candidates due by the end of January.

The School Board noted that the new superintendent must be appointed no later than Feb. 7 and the firm’s time line would need to fit that deadline, according to the consultant’s contract.

To what degree the process will be open is still up in the air, according to School Board chairman Jim Kelly. He said the whole process could be open, meaning the board would name all applicants publicly, or they could wait until the final selection is narrowed down to share names.

Proposals from search firms were due to the board by Oct. 10.

The School Board discussed the firms who applied in closed session Oct. 24, Kelly said. He said they’d narrowed the choices at that meeting, but had some additional questions for BWP. Castner said the board was “very thorough” when hiring BWP.

“We looked at many different things: experience, quality of the folks who would be doing our search, price of course, and ability to meet our schedule,” Kelly said. “We looked at all those factors and we felt most comfortable with BWP.”

Using private firms

The school board has previously hired superintendents using private search firms as well as the Virginia School Board Association to find candidates.

Steve Constantino, whose resignation in August prompted this search, was hired through the VSBA. Gary Mathews, who preceded Constantino, serving from 2005-2010, was found using Ray and Associates Inc. from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Former board member John Alewynse took part in both of those searches.

Alewynse said using a private firm can be concerning and wasn’t pleased with how the search for Mathews progressed.

“People are in business finally to serve themselves, and they serve themselves by serving their clients and I felt … the firm that brought us Dr. Mathews was perhaps serving Dr. Mathews better than they were serving us,” Alewynse said.

The VSBA, he said, serves the interest of the board and the commonwealth rather than individuals. But he added that using a private search firm wasn’t necessarily bad.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-298-5172, McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.

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