School boards turn to Zoom for hiring

By Scott Rothschild,

Hiring a school superintendent is arguably the most important decision a local school board will make.

The superintendent is the CEO of the district, implements the board’s policies and often serves as a leader in the community.

Now imagine filling that position without the benefit of having in-person interactions with the candidates for the job.

That’s what school boards have been experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic as boards and job candidates comply with social distancing and quarantine restrictions.

“I would much prefer to shake their hand and look them in the eye and talk with them,” said Dan Patterson, president of the Lakin USD 215 board.

“We were not happy about it over Zoom,” Tracy Meyerkorth said when the Onaga USD 322 board started its superintendent search. “It’s hard to get a feel for a person electronically,” she said.
But both Patterson and Meyerkorth said they and their fellow board members eventually warmed up to the online conferencing interview process.

Terry Deines, chairman of the Marion County Special Education Cooperative board, said after interviewing candidates for the position of director. “I was really surprised how well it worked.” Deines is president of the Centre USD 397 board, which is one of five districts served by the special education co-op. He added that he thought by allowing the candidates to interview via Zoom from their own homes, it gave the candidates an additional comfort level.

Meyerkorth agreed, saying even though the interviews were on Zoom, she was able to note their facial expressions and demeanor. The Onaga board hired an interim superintendent, Dan Polk. “After his interview, I felt like I knew him,” she said. “Given the circumstances, this was the next best thing,” to an in-person interview, she said.

The superintendent interviews also included Zoom time between the candidates and key staff members. Oftentimes when a candidate is brought in for an interview, he or she shares a meal with the board, participates in a public reception and tours the district’s facilities. With social distancing, however, those parts of the process were out of the question.

In the three instances cited, KASB Leadership Services worked with the boards by gathering applications, researching candidates, winnowing down the number and helping set up the interviews. KASB assists in the majority of superintendent searches in the state.

The board members said the process went smoothly and while they had apprehensions at first about not meeting candidates in person, they said everything worked out.
“There are always some new ways to do things and it turned out pretty good. Sometimes change is good,” Deines said.

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