The Berkeley County School District named three finalists Friday to fill its top spot — and two of them are from the same school district.
Until recently, Barry Shepherd and Jason Van Heukelum were the top two educators in the Cabarrus County (N.C.) School District, a 31,000-student district located northeast of Charlotte. Shepherd retired as superintendent as of April 1.
The third finalist is Rocky Killion of West Lafayette, Ind.
The search for a new Berkeley superintendent started in November after the board agreed to Superintendent Rodney Thompson’s request to be released from his contract July 31.
Thompson was indicted April 14 by a state grand jury on a misdemeanor ethics charge in connection with the 2012 Yes 4 Schools campaign to build and renovate schools and has since been on paid leave.
Shepherd announced March 9 that he would retire in April from the district he has led since February 2008. He has a background as a music teacher and has 12 years of experience as a superintendent.
Van Heukelum is the deputy superintendent, overseeing curriculum and instruction. Berkeley School Board Chairman Kent Murray described him as an “up-and-coming star.” Van Heukelum was named among the “15 people to watch in 2015” by the (Concord) Independent Tribune. His experience includes three years as director of a school in Bolivia.
“It’s unusual (that two finalists are from the same district) but we looked at the field and we chose who we thought were the best qualified,” Murray said. “We are looking for the right person who can build on our successes and lead us into the future. We selected three candidates who we believe can accomplish that. Our next step will be determining the best of these three.”
The district, which hired the headhunting firm BWP Associates, had 90 applicants from 24 states for the job. The board interviewed six candidates this week and unanimously agreed on the final three.
“All three of these finalists are outstanding and I don’t think we can go wrong with any of them,” Murray said.
Killion also has a background in music education, and has been superintendent of the West Lafayette Community School Corp since 2007. He is the 2015 Superintendent of the Year for Indiana and is an opponent of standardized test-based school reform, about which he produced a documentary called “Rise Above the Mark,” describing the negative impact on public education. He drew attention in February when he told an Indianapolis TV station, “I would prefer all of my students’ parents withdraw and become home-schooled during (state-mandated standardized testing), and then we can re-enroll them.”
The candidates will visit the district this week to meet with staff and the community. District officials said Friday they did not yet have a schedule of when they would visit.
The public is invited to receptions Wednesday through Friday at the District Office Board room at 229 East Main Street in Moncks Corner. Employees can attend a gathering at 4:30 p.m., and the community is invited at 5:30 p.m.
The board hopes to make a final decision Friday.
“This is the most important decision that a school board makes so we will take whatever time it takes to get it right,” Murray said. “We have appreciated the support and interest from the community and look forward to announcing the next leader for our school district very soon.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.