EAST MONTPELIER — The search for an interim superintendent is on in the Washington Central Supervisory Union, where officials aren’t waiting for Secretary of Education Dan French to wish them happy hunting.
French hasn’t yet responded to an obligatory letter informing him of the supervisory union’s plans to look for an interim replacement for Superintendent Bill Kimball, school officials said.
Though filling the looming vacancy on a temporary basis isn’t expected to provoke much pushback, French — and, by extension, the state Board of Education — may yet want to evaluate the potential for redrawing some supervisory union boundaries in central Vermont. Kimball’s plan to leave the job he’s held for seven years on June 30 could open the door to such a review, which is one reason local school officials opted not to search for a permanent replacement at this time.
It isn’t the only reason. The five-town, six-school supervisory union anchored by U-32 Middle and High School is currently under state order to merge into a single pre-K-12 district the day after Kimball departs.
The scheduled July 1 launch of the “Washington Central Unified Union School District” may yet be delayed, or even derailed, though it’s definitely on for now.
Competing legislative proposals that would have at least opened the door to a one-year extension were referred to a six-member conference committee, though it’s unclear whether House and Senate lawmakers will be able to reach a compromise.
Meanwhile, four of Washington Central’s six districts are parties to one of three lawsuits challenging Act 46, which led to several state-ordered mergers. A ruling is expected before June 30, though some of the plaintiffs are already talking about a Supreme Court appeal.
That’s the backdrop for a search that could outlast the supervisory union that’s launching it.
Members of the supervisory union’s executive committee have acknowledged as much, stressing the importance of identifying a viable “Plan B” if the search extends beyond July 1.
Preliminary conversations have begun with a couple of in-house alternatives to fill in temporarily, but the committee hopes to identify a viable interim candidate before then.
That’s a prudent move, according to Mark Andrews, the retired superintendent who was retained to aid with the search. One of two candidates hired by the committee last week, Andrews warned members there probably isn’t a deep pool of candidates at this time, and acting swiftly will be crucial.
“Time is of the essence here,” he said. “We’ve got to be really aggressive coming out of the gate.”
A veteran educator who retired as superintendent in Essex 18 months ago, Andrews recently assisted with a superintendent search in the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union. The job attracted 22 applicants, including seven he considered viable.
“There’s not going to be a lot of candidates,” Andrews said, noting part of his role will be to recruit qualified people interested in a short-term commitment to a district in transition.
“There’s going to be an element of head-hunting here,” he said. “We will need to beat the bushes a little bit.”
Andrews told committee members he’ll start this week and hopes his efforts will lead to a contract offer to a preferred candidate by the end of May.
In addition to luck, Andrews said hitting that target will require cutting some corners at the front end of the process. He said there isn’t time for the “visioning” that would typically accompany a search for a permanent replacement, and some outreach in the school community and beyond would need to be sacrificed.
The goal, Andrews said, is to find an experienced manager who can support leadership and instruction initiatives already in place and begin to re-establish trust in a district still divided over governance.
“That’s a big job,” he said.
The good news, from Andrews’ perspective, is Kimball has cultivated a talented leadership team and a plan for advancing the schools whether they’re run by one board or the current six.
“You’ve got a real strong engine, and you’ve got a very cogent plan … that is leading the team forward,” he said. “An interim (superintendent) is not going to disrupt that.”