WCPS employees attend first focus meeting in superintendent search

Maryland Association of Boards of Education seeking input on characteristics sought in leader

January 04, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Working in a tough economic climate, in a county with diverse socioeconomics and pockets of poverty, and with unions were among the challenges public school employees noted Tuesday that a new schools superintendent will face.

Being a visionary, a risk-taker, collaborative, fair, politically savvy, able to lead a progressive school system and build relationships with the business community were among the characteristics employees would like to see in the next superintendent.

About 60 Washington County Public Schools employees attended a focus group meeting at Washington County Technical High School that will help the Board of Education in its national search for a new superintendent.

It was the first of three focus group meetings; the other two are today.

One for business leaders and community organizations is from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Central Office's board auditorium; one for the public is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the technical high school.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan announced in November that she will retire at the end of February. She will become executive director of the national nonprofit Promise Alliance's dropout prevention initiative.

In December, the board hired the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, for $18,000, to help with the search, Board President Wayne Ridenour said.

Because the contract was a professional services agreement that cost less than $50,000, the board did not have to vote on the contract, Board Vice President W. Edward Forrest said.

Ridenour said there might be additional costs above the $18,000, such as advertising.

The board decided to hire MABE because the superintendent search requires a significant amount of time, Ridenour said.

"We're not professional headhunters. They do this," Ridenour said.

Ridenour said MABE's price was the least expensive among the proposals the board received. The board also liked MABE because its officials, "maybe in our mind understand Maryland better than anybody," he said. They know about superintendent criteria in Maryland, state finances and new legislation, he said.

Before entering a closed session Tuesday afternoon about the superintendent search, Ridenour said the board had not yet set a salary range for the next superintendent. Morgan's base salary for this fiscal year is $182,905, according to her contract.

MABE officials reviewed the search process with board members during a meeting Tuesday at the Central Office, before the focus group session.

Carl W. Smith, MABE's executive director, said there is a limited pool of superintendent candidates compared to 20 to 30 years ago.

Asked after the meeting why that was so, lead consultant William Middleton said, "Nobody wants the job."

There's too much red tape, testing requirements for students, a lack of funding, and a lack of ability to really drive what's happening in a school system because of state and federal guidelines, Middleton said.

The search will be competitive, Smith said. There are at least four Maryland counties searching or expected to search for a new schools superintendent this year. The others are Frederick, Montgomery and Caroline counties, he said.

MABE has not been hired to help with the other searches as of yet, Smith said. If Frederick County were to hire MABE, different consultants would work with that county, he said.

Ridenour said the board expects to hire a new superintendent no later than June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

According to the timeline presented by the consultants, candidate interviews are expected to take place in April or May.

The public will have opportunities to meet with the final candidates, probably in May, said Kitty Blumsack, one of the consultants.

For now, the consultants are gathering information to use in searching for a superintendent.

The public may contribute by filling out a form available online at or at the Central Office.

The first thing the consultants ask for is a list of good things about the school system and community because they will need to recruit candidates for the job, Blumsack said.

On the form, people also can list what characteristics, qualities and skills they want in a new superintendent, and what issues the new superintendent needs to know about to be successful here.

The deadline to return the forms is Jan. 10 because the consultants are discussing the feedback with the board Jan. 11, Blumsack said. Blumsack said people may e-mail comments to her at

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