School boards kick off search for leaders

Port Townsend, Chimacum plan focus groups, set timeline to find superintendents

PORT TOWNSEND — In their first joint meeting with a newly hired consultant, the Port Townsend and Chimacum school boards devised focus groups and established a timeline for finding new superintendents to lead each district.

“You seem to me to have been doing this collaborative work together for many years, so kudos,” Hank Harris of Human Capital Enterprises told members of the two boards on Tuesday after listening to each present exhaustive lists of stakeholders who will be consulted later this month in focus groups.

Each board compiled a list of up to 14 focus groups, each with anywhere from two to 12 members, ranging from district leaders, students and teachers to community organizations, parents and district partners.

Those lists were passed along to district staff designated to serve as liaisons between the boards and Harris’ team, who will spend up to 30 minutes meeting with each group between Oct. 19 and Oct. 30.

“Not everybody in your communities is able to engage in focus groups, but we want everybody to be involved in the process,” Harris told the boards. “Anybody and everybody in your community — students, parents, community members — is invited to participate in the online survey.”

That survey is set to go live Oct. 19, simultaneous with the focus group meetings, which also will include 45-minute interviews with each board member, Harris said.

Questions that will be posed both in the focus groups and the online survey include: What about your district are you most proud of; what is the work that needs to be done by a new superintendent; if you were a decision-maker, what would you be looking for as qualities and qualifications; and what does collaboration between Chimacum and Port Townsend mean to you?

After Oct. 30, Harris said he and his team will develop ideal candidate profiles for each district based on what they’ve learned and present those to the boards during a joint Nov. 12 meeting, during which the boards will weigh in to finalize those profiles.

“This ideal profile is a very important document,” Harris said, “because it is what I will use as I go out to recruit candidates; it’s what candidates will use to self select … and it’s what will be the under-girding of the interview questions that you ask when they come in for the first round of interviews.”

That first round of interviews, to be held jointly between the two school boards, won’t come until late Jan. 23, Harris said.

First, he and his team will recruit candidates between Nov. 19 and Jan. 7, then he and his team will hold preliminary candidate interviews before another joint board meeting Jan. 14.

“You are going to be two of the first districts in the state of Washington to get out with your [job] announcement because you are going to announce it right before Thanksgiving,” he said.

“We are going to be out there knocking on virtual doors and calling people up and saying, ‘We want you to think about Chimacum and Port Townsend.’ ”

That last question for the focus groups and everyone else who takes the online survey will be particularly informative, Harris said, because he expects most candidates will be interested in both school districts.

“If people think we should potentially be sharing a superintendent, we’ll hear about it,” said Kristina Mayer, Chimacum School Board chair. “We may hear a little or a lot, so that will be an interesting pivot point.”

After conducting preliminary interviews, Harris will share the transcripts of those interviews as well as all the candidate applications with the boards before they meet Jan. 14 to discuss the applicants and decide who the boards will interview themselves.

“You will have the opportunity to read every single application that’s submitted, and you’ll also see the ones that I mark as more highly recommended,” Harris said.

Finalist interviews are set for Feb. 1-5, and each board will identify a preferred candidate Feb. 6, according to the current timeline.

The traditional in-person finalist visit to meet board members and the school district community might not be feasible if little has changed with the coronavirus pandemic, Harris said.

“There are districts that have hired superintendents in the last few months that they’ve never met in person, so it’s not an impossibility,” he said.

The boards’ final choices would be announced in mid-February, and the new superintendents would start July 1.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [email protected].

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