Search process begins for new superintendent

Published 9:37 pm Monday, June 10, 2019

The Suffolk School Board took its first steps toward finding a replacement for retiring Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney, but not without some splintering over when and where to hold public hearings.

Virginia School Boards Association Executive Gina Patterson, in attendance along with Director of Communications and Board Development Samantha Bosserman, told the board during a special meeting Monday at the College and Career Academy at Pruden that if it had issues this early in the process, it would face even more problems ahead. The board is paying the VSBA $13,500 to provide consulting services on the superintendent search.

Board members, though agreeing on getting a survey on the superintendent search out to the public immediately, split on the number of hearings to hold. Tyron Riddick suggested two public hearings, while Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said that if there were to be multiple meetings, they should be held at each of the high schools.

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Riddick said he would support three meetings if that was the will of the board, but he did not want to have King’s Fork High School as one of the choices because it would be more difficult for residents he represents to get there.

Patterson said the VSBA, as standard practice, recommends holding just one public hearing.

Riddick said he favored having a meeting for residents of the southern end of the city at City Hall, and if that wasn’t available, to having Booker T. Washington Elementary School host it.

“We will lose people if we have just one location,” Riddick said.

School Board member Sherri Story said public hearings could be held at Nansemond River and Lakeland high schools, as well as City Hall. If City Hall wasn’t available, Story said a meeting could take place at Booker T. Washington. She then asked if folks from the Lakeland area could come to City Hall and then have two public hearings there.

Member Lorita Mayo said that if it was necessary to have public hearings at the high schools, then there would need to be one at Lakeland High School so that people living in the southern end of the city do not feel left out.

Member David Mitnick then suggested that there be a morning and evening meeting June 25 at City Hall to accommodate the downtown population and those who work during the day that could only attend an evening meeting.

After more discussion, Mitnick said, “If we can’t agree on a date, we’re in trouble.”

Patterson agreed with that, and Mayo responded that if it is important enough for residents to come, “they’re going to find a way to get there.” And if they can’t get there, she said the surveys would give still give residents “a sounding board.”

Mayo said the board should follow the VSBA’s recommendation of holding just one public hearing. Riddick said if the board didn’t go along with his recommendation, he would hold a town hall and use that as a de facto public hearing for residents he represents.

After Riddick said he planned to have a survey team go out to residents in his area, Brooks-Buck expressed concerns with that because she said results could be tainted and diluted.

“I think you should have a bigger concern about the trust issue that seems to be coming up right here,” Patterson said. “I think what you’re saying, there’s a trust issue more than anything. … This part of it should not be this hard.”

“It shouldn’t be,” Brooks-Buck said in reply.

The board ultimately agreed to the survey going out immediately, to be posted on the school division’s website, and it agreed to have a public hearing at 7 p.m. June 25 at a location to be determined, another meeting at 7 p.m. June 26 and then a meeting at 11 a.m. Aug. 7 with the VSBA, which would need to go into closed session, Patterson said, in order to discuss specific candidates.

Patterson said she anticipates the first round of interview with candidates taking place around August or September.

Bosserman reminded the board that it will have three sets of data to create the qualifications the board will seek in a new superintendent — the survey, the public hearing and each board member’s own opinions.

Patterson said the board has to be on the same page when it comes to the search for a superintendent, and on its decision. The board, she said, has 180 days from the time of Whitney’s retirement Sept. 1 to select a superintendent, according to state law.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” Patterson said. “It shouldn’t be this hard to get a survey out there. … I think you all have taken an oath of office to do what’s right for the children. It’s not a political position. It’s not about adults. It’s about children, and to keep your focus on what’s right for children and hiring the next person. Again, for this to take this long, you understand what I’m saying, you’ve got so much bigger hurdles to deal with in this process. And if we’re going to second guess someone else’s integrity at this point, sitting here talking about surveys, you all have bigger issues.”

Timeline for superintendent search

June 10 — Announcement of superintendent search

June 24 — Survey deadline

June 25 — Public hearing at 7 p.m. Location to be determined and subject to official approval by the School Board at its regular meeting Thursday.

June 26 — School Board meeting to establish qualifications in a superintendent, 7 p.m. at the College and Career Academy at Pruden, subject to official approval by the School Board.

June 27 — School Board to provide qualifications to the Virginia School Boards Association.

July 1 to Aug. 2 — Superintendent application process open.

Aug. 7 — School Board to meet with VSBA at meeting, which would go into closed session to discuss specific candidates, 11 a.m. at the College and Career Academy at Pruden.

August/September — Anticipated first interviews with superintendent candidates.