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Local business leaders want input on New Hanover Co. Superintendent search

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Wilmington, NC— Area business leaders from the Cape Fear Future Commission have signed an open letter to the New Hanover County School Board seeking business and community member representation at the interviews for school superintendent candidates. The leaders feel that opening the process would provide additional perspectives that will lead to a better choice for superintendent, help build community support for the selected candidate and allow transparency that breeds trust. The position of superintendent is being vacated by Al Lerch, who is retiring.

The letter proposes using interview panels—three or four groups of three or four community stakeholders (for example, school board members, PTA officials, teachers, representatives of the business community, etc.) that would be part of the formal interview process. Each candidate would meet with all panels, then those panels would gather to share their opinions. The letter states that the panels are not meant to usurp the authority of the school board, but simply provide advice and additional perspectives. The final hiring decision would still be made by the school board.

“One of the stated goals in the New Hanover County School’s strategic plan is to strengthen business and school partnerships,” said Connie Majure-Rhett, President & CEO of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. “This is a perfect opportunity to take a step in that direction.”

At the March 2 New Hanover County School Board meeting, a representative of the Greater Wilmington Chamber Foundation requested that the school board hire an executive search firm to seek out superintendent candidates from across the country. The school board voted instead to hire the North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) to advertise the job and gather resumes for school board members to review.

The letter to school board members states that the education system influences business and economic development, and the superintendent is the greatest influence on the system. Using the collective experience of those in the business community to look at superintendent candidates can provide another useful tool in the evaluation process.

“It was determined through the Chamber’s strategic planning process and through Cape Fear Future that the community would be better served if business leaders worked more closely and more often with elected officials on community issues,” said Majure-Rhett. “This letter is a part of that effort.”

The Cape Fear Future Commission was formed to communicate and provide input on Cape Fear Future initiatives, identify and propel important initiatives forward, and help leverage existing efforts and organizations. The Commission held its kickoff meeting Tuesday, April 20, 2010, and the open letter to the school board was the group’s first action item. The goal of Cape Fear Future is to attract and retain knowledge workers and further develop the area’s skilled workforce.

The members of the Cape Fear Future Commission who signed the letter to the school board are:

Chris Boney, Managing Principal
LS3P Associates LTD.

Sterling Cheatham, City Manager
City of Wilmington

Shann Coleman
Wilmington Minority Professional Networking Group

Andy Combs, General Manager
WWAY NewsChannel 3

Rosemary DePaolo, Chancellor
University of North Carolina Wilmington

Karl Ehemann, Plant Manager
Corning, Inc.

Donna Girardot, Executive Officer
Wilmington-Cape Fear Homebuilders Association

John Gizdic, Vice President
New Hanover Regional Medical Center

Bill Graham, Chairman
Cape Fear Health Policy Council

General David Grange, CEO
PPD, Inc.

Bob Gruber, Publisher
Star-News

Rob Kaiser, Publisher
Greater Wilmington Business Journal

Hal Kitchen, Partner
McGuireWoods LLP

Connie Knox, General Manager
WILM-TV, Inc.

Emily Longley, President
Longley Supply Company

Captain Howard Loving
US Navy (Retired)

Connie Majure-Rhett, President & CEO
Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Paul McCombie, City Executive
NewBridge Bank

Gary McNair, Vice President & General Manager
WECT

Tim Milam, Owner
Coldwell Banker - Seacoast Realty

Jon Rosborough, Director
Wilmington International Airport

Margaret Stargell, President & CEO
Coastal Horizons Center, Inc.

Randy Tomsic, Market President
Wachovia Bank, A Wells Fargo Company

Raiford Trask, Vice President
Autumn Hall

Deborah Velders, Director
Cameron Art Museum

James Wallace, CEO
Intracoastal Realty Corporation

Bob Warwick, Consulting Director
RSM McGladrey, Inc.

COPY OF THE OPEN LETTER:

To the New Hanover County School Board,

The business community has enormous respect for our area teachers, administrators and school board members. All involved in the school system are faced with the challenge of educating nearly 24,500 students, and have a host of seemingly eternal issues, from limited funds and enrollment growth that requires new school construction, to divisive redistricting issues and balancing the diverse needs of students.

Serving the best interests of those students means that there are also 24,500 reasons why we need the best leader at the helm. That’s why, at the March 2 school board meeting, a representative from the Greater Wilmington Chamber Foundation proposed that the search for the next superintendent be done by an executive search firm that would advertise the position nationally and examine applicants from across the country to find the best superintendent available.

The school board did not choose to hire an executive search firm, but instead agreed to use the North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) to help with the task. The NCSBA will advertise the job and gather resumes for our school board to review. Although not the strongest option, that decision has already been made. So it’s time to turn our attention to selecting the best candidate.

To continue to open that process, we are asking the school board to allow stakeholders in the community to have an active role in the interview process for superintendent. Everyone in our community has a stake in the educational system. The business community is keenly interested because the state of the education system influences business and economic development, and the superintendent is the greatest influence on the system. Using our collective talents and experience to look at superintendent candidates through many lenses can provide another useful tool in the evaluation process. It will also build support by giving the community an active role and allowing transparency that breeds trust.

We propose using interview panels – three or four groups of three or four community stakeholders (for example, school board members, PTA officials, teachers, representatives of the business community) – that would be part of the formal interview process. Each candidate would meet with all panels, then those panels would gather to share their opinions and impressions. These panels are not meant to usurp the authority of the school board. Rather they would provide advice and additional opinions and perspectives.

We see this as a much improved, open process. The final hiring decision would still be made by the school board, but it will be a decision that would be accepted more readily and with greater enthusiasm due to the participatory process. And, if it turns out that the best candidate was already on staff, wouldn’t it be nice to know that the process supported that conclusion?

One of the main goals in the New Hanover County School’s strategic plan is to strengthen business and school partnerships. This is a perfect opportunity to take a step in that direction. We are asking you to use the expertise and the desire in this community. Embrace an open, tough look at the candidates for perhaps the most important position in our community…the person who can lead our school system to greatness.

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