Otsego school board interviews final three candidates
Otsego school board members plan to pick the district’s next superintendent at a special meeting Monday, May 5, (today).
Board members interviewed six candidates to replace Dennis Patzer, who’s chosen to retire at the end of the school year, and brought the three top choices back to the district Wednesday, April 30, for a day of tours, a reception and a second interview.
The three candidates interviewed a second time were Sonia Lark, superintendent of Alma Public Schools; Jeffery Haase, superintendent of Hesperia Community Sch-ools; and Andrew Shaw, former superintendent of Pittsford Area Schools.
The board also interviewed Gary Wood, superintendent of Mio-Ausable Schools, Phillip Seager, director of School Improvement and Assessments for Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Timothy Donahue, superintendent of Potterville Public Schools, during the first round.
At the second interviews April 30, board members took turns asking the candidates questions before a final decision.
Board member Jim Herm asked her view on outsourcing.
Lark said it depended on the situation.
“I’d love to have all the money in our school budgets where we could have all of our own people do all these things,” she said. “I truly believe that it’s great to have all of our own community people working in the schools.”
She said at her current district, they had to outsource some custodial positions because it did cost less.
Board member Mike Cronen asked how long it took Lark to research and solve a problem.
Lark said it really depended on the problem and gave an example, which showed how problems themselves would often impose a timeline, such as when the river that bisects the town is rising.
“We’d just gotten the kids to school, but the river was rising fast,” she said. “We got them back on the busses and sent them home.
“That needed a quick decision.”
Board member Wendy Stafford asked Lark what students needed to do well with more challenging state standards and the Common Core curriculum.
Lark said Otsego seemed to be doing a lot of the necessary curriculum steps.
“They need to know we care about them,” she said. “I know that’s simple, but it’s first and foremost.”
Board member Donna Oberhill asked about any specific ideas Lark would bring.
Lark said making sure available grant funds were pursued was a big priority for her. She described working with the City of Alma to get a Safe Routes To School grant.
Board member Bryon Campbell asked about her management of maintenance, transportation and food service.
Lark said, “I’m a relational type of person, so I know my maintenance, transportation and food service directors quite well...
“I just tell them never be afraid to email me too much information.”
Board member Scott Sleeman asked about her normal attendance at school functions.
Lark responded, “Because our district’s the same size as yours, we have a lot.”
She said she attended all the fine arts events and tried to get to at least one event of every sports team. Lark said she often takes tickets at the high school home football game as a good way to meet and greet people.
Board president Renny Ransbottom asked her to try to predict the future of education.
Lark said she was hopeful.
“I think folks still have a high regard for education,” she said. “I think people will stand up and demand good public schools. I think we’ll see more investment with business into the schools.”
Stafford asked about teacher evaluations.
Lark said she’d perceived the state was likely to require them going forward and she’d gotten out ahead to work with her district’s teachers to create an effective, fair evaluation process.
His interview started with Ransbottom asking why he wanted to come to Otsego.
Haase replied, “I’ve been very selective and this is the only superintendent position I’ve applied for.”
He said Otsego seemed to be a close, tight-knit community with a school system already in very good shape.
Herm asked him about programs he’d worked on involving students who were struggling and students who were gifted and talented.
Hesperia, Haase said, is a small district so he’d focused on partnering with Muskegon Community College to provide college classes for high school students to take. He said the program allowed students to get an associates degree in their first year after graduation and allowed the school to fund it by still claiming the kids as students.
A program to help kids behind in reading called Read 180 had been very successful for him, Haase said, and the district planned to add a similar program for math next year.
Cronen asked whether he preferred to delegate or solve problems himself.
Haase responded it depended on the problem, but if it could be handled at a building level, he’d allow it to be.
“I’m a firm believer in supporting your administrative staff,” he said.
Stafford asked where he saw Otsego Public Schools in 10 years and what he’d do to get there.
Haase said he saw it as becoming one of the top districts in the state.
“I’d see people wanting to relocate here because it’s a top district in Michigan,” he said.
Otsego already had much of the necessary work ongoing, he said, but he believed it would be important to celebrate success, while always trying to move forward to the next challenge.
Campbell asked him about deficit budgeting, but Haase said he’d been lucky enough to avoid that.
“It’s taken some ‘right-sizing’ to stay there,” he said.
Herm asked about outsourcing and Haase said they’d outsourced custodians.
“It was very tough and I assume it was tough here,” Haase said. “I think it’s something we all have to look at.”
Cronen asked him what makes a great leader.
“I think it’s someone who listens to the staff, the community, the kids,” Haase said. “But I believe it’s also someone who makes a decision when it’s required.
“I think it’s also someone who’s a servant.”
Oberhill asked him about technology and how he saw it best used.
Haase said Otsego had the most important piece with technology down already.
“The professional development you provide to staff here is astonishing,” he said. “That’s not a common thing across the state.”
Campbell asked how to require accountability.
Haase said, “I meet with administrators and directors once per week fro an hour. We call that adjustment meetings and talk about what’s new and what’s next.”
Herm asked him about programs he’d worked on targeted at struggling students and gifted students.
Shaw said they’d targeted middle school math scores and created a second math class at both grade levels.
“At the same time, we brought up the rigor at the elementary level,” he said.
At his previous, small district Shaw said they’d dealt with gifted students individually and he’d try to preserve some of that.
“Even in a school of 2,300, you have to think of students on an individual level,” Shaw said.
“Gifted” he said, would also include students who excelled at some area of technical or vocational arts.
Cronen asked Shaw whether he was mainly proactive or reactive.
Shaw said he strongly aimed for proactive and said it was demonstrated by his attention to reducing liability for his district over the years.
He also pointed to an anti-bullying policy the district had put in, not in response to a specific incident or requirement, but with the idea of being proactive.
Stafford asked him where he saw Otsego Public Schools in 10 years.
Shaw responded, “To be totally honest, I don’t know a lot of it. Without having some long conversations with people here, I can’t answer it.”
He said it appeared the district was on the right path because its mission statement and vision statements were perfectly aligned to improve and move forward.
Oberhill asked about where Shaw saw technology going.
“I always ask about technology, ‘Why do we do what we do?’” Shaw said.
The trend of tablets for high school students was not one he favored, he said, because there was more utility for them at the elementary level.
“At the high school, some classes will use them and some won’t,” he said. “At the elementary, they’re used constantly.”
Campbell asked him to summarize his strengths and weaknesses.
Shaw chose experience as his strength.
“Weakness, it’ll be about trying to depend on others,” he said.
Coming from a small district, Shaw said he was accustomed to doing a lot of things he’d have to delegate at Otsego, naming the school’s newsletter as an example.
“Letting things go, that’s going to be a problem for a little while,” he said.
Herm asked about leadership.
Shaw said he believed strongly a leader modeled and said he’d tried to show his staff that professional development and continuing education were the way to do that.
“If you’re going to change education, it has to be done through professional development.