Superintendent candidate says county has 'quality school board'

April 18, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Washington County Public School Superintendent candidate Craig Fiegel met with several high school students for one hour over lunch Monday as part of his interview process.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

During his first visit to Washington County, public schools superintendent candidate Craig Fiegel talked about his current job in Michigan, where his contract wasn't renewed, and what he can bring to this school system.

Fiegel has applied for other superintendent jobs since the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools board, in a split vote, decided last September not to renew his contract.

Fiegel, 56, said he likes the size of this school district, the variety of programs and feels comfortable with the seven-member school board, which he described as a "quality school board."

"I think that's important for a superintendent when trying to find a way to be successful," Fiegel said Sunday in a phone interview. To be successful, the superintendent and board need to have a clear understanding of each other's roles and be supportive of one another, he said.

Fiegel's contract with Plymouth-Canton in Michigan runs through June 30, according to Frank Ruggirello, spokesman for the Michigan school system.

A video at that school system's website shows a contentious September meeting in which many community members supported Fiegel, while a representative for the teachers urged the board to just make a decision. One board member criticized Fiegel for doing things without consulting the school system's team of experts.

"I think we shared a difference in philosophy of how to manage the district," Fiegel said Sunday.

Plymouth-Canton has a long history of micromanaging by some board members, Fiegel said.

"I thought I could work with them and try to change that," said Fiegel, noting he wasn't the only superintendent to have issues with the board.

Including Fiegel, the Plymouth-Canton school system has had four full-time superintendents and two interim superintendents in the past 15 years, Ruggirello said.

Usually the school board sets the goals, hopefully with some guidance from administrators, and administrators decide how to get those goals accomplished, Fiegel said during an in-person interview Monday at the school system's Central Office. Fiegel spent the day meeting with school system employees, students, business leaders and community members.

A visit to the Michigan school system's website shows some examples of how Fiegel communicates with the community through letters he posts online, providing updates on issues such as the budget.

In an email to The Herald-Mail, Fiegel said he has an open-door policy and makes every effort to answer all emails and phone calls as quickly as possible. He meets with community groups and uses newsletters, email and the school system website to communicate with the community, he said.

In the mid-1990s, while assistant superintendent with Lawrence Public Schools in Kansas, Fiegel organized a participatory budget process in which volunteers from the community and school system helped evaluate the budget and identify areas for cuts.

Volunteers were educated about the budget and funding process, which is on a per-pupil basis in Kansas, and broken into groups, such as elementary education.

They went line item by line item through the budget and were asked to identify cuts to make in case funding had to be cut by 5 percent or 10 percent, he said.

Fiegel said the school system got a good response, both in volunteers and community reaction after the school system had to make some of the groups' recommended cuts.

Fiegel said he used a similar, abbreviated process at Evergreen Park Elementary School District in Chicago, where he was superintendent for more than nine years, and at Plymouth-Canton.

"If nothing else, it helps people get a sense of where money is spent and how it's spent and restrictions," he said.

Asked if he foresaw a similar process here, if he gets the job, Fiegel said he'd have to learn more about the current budget advisory committee and how it operates.

Whomever gets the superintendent job will be succeeding Elizabeth Morgan, who oversaw the school system for a decade and was 2010 National Superintendent of the Year.

"Probably easier to follow someone who didn't do as good a job," Fiegel said.

By the same token, the next superintendent is coming into a well-managed school system that has been innovative academically, he said.

All those positive things might make it easier to move forward because a new superintendent doesn't have to reinvent things, he said.

"You have a successful district," he said.

"As with anything, you come in and identify things that maybe you'd change. No critical issues to come in and fix," he said.

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