Sequim school directors refine search for next superintendent

Job post expected to be live this week

SEQUIM — When a job posting for the Sequim School District’s next superintendent goes live late this week, it won’t be specifically targeting a short- or long-term solution to the role.

While Hank Harris of Human Capital Enterprises — the superintendent search firm hired by the district to find its next administrative leader — urged board directors to consider seeking an experienced candidate who might not stay for several years, directors said they hold out hope they can still find a superintendent who will serve as more than a bridge to the next long-term leader.

The board of directors and Harris further refined who they hope to entice to the district’s lead administrator at a special meeting on Dec. 9, with the job expected to be posted this coming Thursday on several education websites.

“Time is now of the essence … (and) we need to set the criteria at the get go of the search,” Harris told directors.

Jane Pryne has led the district as interim superintendent for the past 13 months following Robert Clark’s placement on administrative leave in October 2020. Clark resigned Jan. 15 and, in late March, a district employee filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against Clark that has yet to be resolved.

Pryne, who had retired from her position as Port Angeles School District superintendent, agreed to serve as interim superintendent on Oct. 26, 2020, and then re-upped for another year at the board’s request in February.

But in November, Pryne announced she will resign the post effective Dec. 31.

It is still unclear who will lead the district in Pryne’s absence, as assistant superintendent Jennifer Maughan was placed on administrative leave in mid-September after alleging acts of discrimination/retaliation against her by Pryne.

Board members briefly discussed replacing Pryne during their Nov. 15 meeting.

Board member Brandino Gibson said he’s made contact with the Olympic Educational Service District, one of nine regional state agencies across Washington state that supports school districts, about assistance in temporarily filling the superintendent role.

Three options

Harris, in his presentation last week, provided three superintendent archetypes:

• Option one, an “experienced school district leader who is committed to moving to and putting down roots in Sequim.”

However, Harris noted, “Highly talented mid-career school district leaders may well be uninterested in relocating to Sequim at this moment in Sequim School District’s history.”

• Option two, an “experienced school district leader who is interested in a short-term commitment to Sequim.”

This kind of candidate would likely be in the district for one to three years and set the district up for a more long-term leader after his/her tenure, Harris said.

These candidates often are those who have been a superintendent and may be semi-retired but want to continue to work in the education field, he said.

“The aspiration would be for this new superintendent to help the new board ‘right the ship’ and attend to some of the pressing matters that have challenged the district over the last several years,” Harris noted.

• Option three, an “experienced organizational leader” who’s known and trusted in Sequim and/or Clallam County.

This candidate, Harris wrote, could be “a seasoned executive who has demonstrated success and has experience with boards and transformational change but who may be new to school district leadership.”

Harris said getting a good pool of candidates from option one might be difficult.

“I really do believe Sequim needs an experienced leader at the highest level of the organization,” he said.

“When there are many places that also are attractive places to live … (the) fact three most recent superintendents have not lasted a very long time is a risky proposition for someone who needs to earn a wage,” Harris said.

Unless that person has deep ties to Sequim or the North Olympic Peninsula, long-term candidates might be scared away by the district’s current problems, he said.

“Someone who does not have deep ties will have other opportunities and less risk,” Harris said. “I fear I will bring you a very small pool … from option one.”

But board directors said they still hold out some hope that the candidate pool could still bring in someone with interest in a long-term tenure at superintendent.

“I’m still leading toward option one,” board president Eric Pickens said. “I haven’t lost faith in our community,.Sequim absolutely best to live in the world and I think we can attract that person.”

Said board vice president Patrice Johnston, “One year just seems like another interim. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for somebody to stay for at least two years.”

Stakeholders

Part of the process of picking the next superintendent is a community stakeholder group that would, by Harris’ timeline, interview finalists for the role on or around March 10.

Harris suggested a 14-member group representing a diverse array of interests and subgroups within Sequim schools and the boarder community.

Harris suggested this Community Confidential Stakeholder Committee include seven community members who would include a parent from each of the three grade-level schools (elementary, middle and high); two students; a community member who is not a parent/guardian of a Sequim student, and a seventh member who is a parent or non-parent/guardian.

On Dec. 9, board directors also expressed interest in having other stakeholder groups, including special needs and highly capable groups, as well as the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the City of Sequim.

A lottery system to pick most of those members is easiest, Harris said. Otherwise, the board would need to create a selection sub-committee and rubric for committee selections.

Pickens and Johnston said they would meet with Harris to further refine that group.

Costs

Harris recommended at least two options to offer a higher-than-standard salary — something close to $250,000 — to attract the next superintendent to Sequim.

The elevated salary, Harris said, is “because this is a challenging moment in time. At this moment … it might behoove you to attract the best candidate.”

The board on Dec. 9 verbally agreed to a $2,100 advertising budget that would put the job posting with three regional entities (Washington Association of School Administrators, EdJoin and Coalition of Oregon School Administrators), as well as three national groups (School Superintendents Association, National Alliance of Black School Educators and Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents).

Board directors also asked Harris to look further afield, such as Montana and Alaska, for viable candidates.

Sequim school board directors in February selected Human Capital Enterprises to lead the search of a superintendent for the 2021-2022 school year. At the time, the company was in the final stages of superintendent searches in Chimacum and Port Townsend.

________

Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequimgazette.com.

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