Board OKs national schools chief search

The scope of the search for the next leader of the Charleston County School District got bigger Monday after the school board voted to move forward with a national search.

The board voted 8-1 to have its lawyers draft an agreement within seven business days with the South Carolina School Boards Association to place the school district’s superintendent vacancy on the association’s website and conduct a national search for candidates. The board action requires the association to present candidate applications no later than May 15.

School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats was the only board member to vote against a national search, saying she would be willing to discuss a regional search.

“I’m not sure our best candidate is in Utah,” Coats told her fellow board members.

The board will still have to approve a formal contract, including costs, with the association to officially launch the search.

Paul Krohne, executive director of the association, has previously estimated those costs between $60,000 and $80,000. The board’s actions on Monday will not change an earlier plan to meet with previously identified candidates, including Deputy Superintendent of Academics Lisa Herring and former Horry County Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait to discuss their interest in the Charleston position before deciding how to fill the post.

Acting Superintendent Michael Bobby had been named as a third candidate, but he has since withdrawn his name from consideration.

The board is scheduled to meet with Postlewait on Wednesday. The group will meet with Herring on April 13.

Board member Tom Ducker offered up the motion to expand the board’s search, saying the board gave internal candidates the opportunity to be considered and that it should do the same for external candidates.

“Now I think it’s beneficial to us to not rely on just one single external candidate, but to go out and search for other candidates,” Ducker said.

It’s unclear what process the board’s discussions with Postlewait and Herring will follow since they are being held outside the scope of a national search or if they will now have to apply through the association to formally be considered.

Some board members were unclear on whether the meetings with the pair were formal interviews, while others wondered if it made sense to speak with them at all outside of a formal national search.

“To move forward with a discussion this week, in my opinion, will not make any sense,” said board member Eric Mack. “It doesn’t matter how the discussion goes if we open up a national search with this motion tonight whether we like them or not, they’re still going to have to go through that process. I think we’re just repeating ourselves having to go through the discussion.”

School board member Chris Staubes supported moving forward with meeting with Herring and Postlewait — and reserving the right to potentially hire one of them. The board is under pressure regarding Herring’s and Postlewait’s candidacies. Herring is a semifinalist as the superintendent of Birmingham City Schools in Alabama and is interviewing for that position on Wednesday. Staubes said Postlewait also is being recruited by other districts.

“If we’re talking to one of these candidates and one of them wows us, I will be the one raising my hand to suspend this motion (for a national search) and we will take a vote,” Staubes said. “If not, then we’re moving forward with a national search.”

The turn in the superintendent search was part of a special called meeting Monday where the board discussed the results of an online survey and input from community groups regarding the desired qualifications of the next superintendent.

The board received a 47-page summary outlining the survey’s results, which included feedback from 548 people including 227 teachers and 139 parents. The top three qualifications for the next superintendent identified in the survey included a strong background in curriculum and instructional strategies; experience in planning equal educational opportunities for all students; and strong communication skills.

The board also weighed input from other community groups including several constituent school boards, the Charleston branch of the NAACP, the Charleston Teacher Alliance, the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, the Charleston Area Community Voice for Education and officials from the Town of Mount Pleasant.

The board will use the survey and input to draft its own list of criteria to select the next schools leader.