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W’md School Board starts search for a new superintendent

The Virginia School Board Association’s Gina Patterson met last Thursday with Westmoreland School Board members and the result was the board’s immediate release of the timeline that will govern efforts to replace outgoing division superintendent Elaine Fogliani.
Elaine Fogliani served as Westmoreland County School superintendent for six years. At the strike of midnight on Aug. 31 the Charlottesville native became a member of the University of Virginia faculty.

The Westmoreland School Board accepted Fogliani’s resignation July 12 and immediately appointed James Cook to the position of interim superintendent. Cook was later given the title of acting superintendent. Fogliani will remain on call throughout the next 12 months, sharing institutional knowledge and providing guidance to ensure an optimally smooth transition.
Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) will play a major role in locating Westmoreland County’s next school division superintendent. A nationwide search is being launched and VSBA qualification and selection guidelines will be adhered to.
On Thursday afternoon Patterson distributed copies of the VSBA search manual to the county’s school board members and delivered specific instructions about use of the manual and the set of protocols the board must use.
An outsider could easily go away from last week’s proceeding with a perception that the VSBA is calling the shots and that local control in minimal at best. The Westmoreland School Board had to designate the member who will report to Patterson and VSBA and be on constant call to respond to queries from that Richmond office.
At the end of the afternoon it was clear that local influence in the selection process will be dependent on the public’s willingness to participate in the survey the division will soon post online at www.wmlcps.org.
Even the Aug. 26 timing of the web posting of the press release detailing the search effort timeline is a product of the VSBA protocols.
The posted timeline states that when classes begin on Sept. 7, the crucially important survey will be posted on the division website and distributed to staff, students and community in hard copy form. Survey returns will be accepted no later than Sept. 20, when a public hearing on school superintendent qualification considerations will be entertained in the Roane Center for Excellence meeting room.
The survey is the people’s and the school division employees’ single opportunity to influence the selection process. Response considerations will be incorporated into the set of qualifications cited in the job application.
Accordingly, a formal announcement of the position will be posted nationwide on Sept. 27. Oct. 22 will be the deadline for accepting applications and selected candidates will be interviewed during November. Announcement of the individual selected to serve as Westmoreland School Division Superintendent will follow in December.
“Hiring a new superintendent is the biggest task facing a School Board,” Board Chairman Daniel Wallace stated in the news release of Aug. 26.
“We hope that parents, staff and residents will take time to fill out the survey or attend the public hearing.”
School Board member Bryan Oliff played the lead role in the 2004 search effort. This time he will share the expertise gleaned from that experience with board member Rosemary Mahan. Mahan will be responsible for converting survey returns into the set of qualifications listed in the application.
Mahan was tasked with renting a post office box where applications will be received. She must keep the highly confidential materials in a locked safe that can only be accessed by the members of the board. Mahan will maintain direct communications with VSBA’s Patterson.
On Aug. 26 Board Chairman Daniel Wallace astounded colleagues when he shared the 2004 citizen survey he had preserved in a computer hard drive. The old and new surveys are essentially the same. Citizens and school employees will use the survey to make known the set of qualifications and qualities they want to be listed in the employment application.
“The results will drive the search,” Patterson explained.
According to the discussion, division employee and local citizen input strongly influenced the 2004 search that resulted in the selection of Fogliani. Survey returns called for selection of an individual who was decisive, who was a motivator and a visionary able and willing to develop budget rationale and explanations that facilitated success when lobbying for school funding.
In 2004, 44 percent of the survey respondents wanted a superintendent with a doctorate degree, 40 percent wanted a Westmoreland resident, and 65 percent wanted the superintendent to have teaching experience.
According to Patterson, the average superintendent working in a Virginia school division holds the position for fewer than six years. The national average is service for fewer than four years. During 2010 there have been 20 division superintendent vacancies in Virginia. Four vacancies currently exist.

Betsy Ficklin

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