2009-12-12 / Top News

School Narrows Superintendent Search to Two

By Karen Gould

Two superintendent candidates will be interviewed over the telephone by the Mackinac Island Board of Education, following the withdrawal of one of the three finalists. The supplementary interviews were approved by the board at a special meeting Wednesday, December 9, but the process was not announced.

David Waaso of South Haven and Steve Vernon of Rapid City, South Dakota, are now the two finalists for the job. Carl Sztuczko of St. Louis, Michigan, withdrew his application following public interviews held on Mackinac Island Monday, December 7.

Following the interviews Monday, a four-hour process during which the candidates were interviewed separately, the board held a straw vote by secret ballot, apparently to see if one of the candidates stood out.

Interim Superintendent Michael Bootz of Mackinaw City, who did not attend the Wednesday meeting because a winter storm canceled ferry service that day, said the two remaining candidates came out about even in the polling.

The Wednesday meeting had been scheduled to review the board's collective interview notes and to set up visits to the communities of the candidates, after board members observed Monday that the three candidates they interviewed would all do an excellent job for Mackinac Island Public School. The decision to interview Messrs. Waaso and Vernon once more, this time by telephone, was made because several new questions for them had been proposed, Mr. Bootz told the Town Crier Thursday, as the newspaper went to press.

Because of the canceled boat service that day, the Town Crier was also not able to attend the meeting.

The poll vote Monday night came at the suggestion of school board member Jason St. Onge.

"What I'd like to see first is people's opinion based on what they heard and not anyone's opinion on what they got influenced by over the next 24 hours or 36 hours," he told the board. "That's coming, we definitely know that, but it sure would be nice if at some point we could go back and say, 'Here was our gut instinct all along, why are we contradicting ourselves now.'"

Board President Ben Mosley said he thought the process might help narrow the candidate field to two candidates.

"I think, personally, that all three gentleman were excellent candidates," he said. "I think that any one of the three of them would do an excellent job for the district. Perfection is in the details. Each one of the candidates had their own strong points."

Mr. St. Onge cited a statistic he had heard that superintendents serve a district for an average of only 2.2 years, so Mackinac Island should not plan to hire someone who would stay longterm.

"Those days are over," he noted.

Having a good person for a short time, said Mr. Bootz, is better than having an average person for a long time.

Mr. Waaso is the operations director at South Haven Public Schools. A Hillsdale College graduate, he has been an elementary principal, high school and middle school assistant principal, athletic director, and a biology, conservation, and physical science teacher.

Mr. Vernon is a teacher. He majored in elementary education and minored in middle school education at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. He has a master's degree in administration at the secondary level and has taught fourth through 12th grade. He was the dean of students with the Rapid City South Dakota School District and an assistant principal.

The Monday evening meeting was attended by about 10 teachers and residents.

Board members queried candidates mostly on their ideas for education and curricula and relationships with the community and with the board of education.

The candidates were not present during each other's interviews.

During the interviews, each board member was responsible for reading questions. The process was to offer a fair interview, said Mr. Mosley. No variations were made, although at the end of each interview the board sought clarification on several candidate comments.

The major focus was on students and personnel administration. The board was interested in the candidates' thoughts on discipline, whether they consider themselves role models, and a description of their experiences and comfort level with students of all ages.

Conflict resolution was explored with the board giving a scenario of a parent calling to complain that a teacher had mistreated a child. The board asked how the candidate would address and resolve the situation.

Leadership practices with staff and teachers was questioned, as well as their methods of building trust and raising morale.

The board also wanted to know how the candidate see the role of the school board in the affairs of the school district, and asked what phase of the budget process they found to be most difficult.

Candidates were asked to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Following the interviews, Mr. Bootz assured the board he would stay in the position until a superintendent is hired. The board said it did not want to make a rushed decision. When hired in September, Mr. Bootz had agreed to stay in the temporary post until the end of December.

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