Charleston County School Board moving cautiously on superintendent search

Michael Bobby, the Charleston County School District’s chief financial officer, has been serving as acting superintendent since November. The Charleston County School Board is expected to move forward later this month with a plan for filling the superintendent position permanently.

It’s the peak season for school districts to find a new superintendent, but Charleston County School Board members aren’t rushing to fill the position.

More than three months after the board accepted former Charleston schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley’s resignation, the board hasn’t officially moved forward with finding the next schools chief. Above all, board members say, they have to make the right hire.

Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said she anticipates the board will be ready to make a decision on how to proceed with finding the next superintendent by the end of the month. The board has discussed proposed contractual matters regarding a superintendent search twice in the past month in closed meetings but has yet to publicly address the matter. Coats said the board’s closed-door discussions have focused on “best practices and processes” for finding a new superintendent.

It’s been nearly a decade since the school board last hired a superintendent. The board opted to hire from within in 2007 when it promoted McGinley from chief academic officer to superintendent. None of the current school board members were on the board when McGinley was promoted.

The task of finding a new leader, Coats said, is something she and her fellow board members take seriously.

“I think the board recognizes this is the biggest decision of their tenure,” she said.

The board voted 8-1 on Oct. 30 to accept McGinley’s resignation amid the firing and rehiring of Academic Magnet football coach Bud Walpole over his team’s controversial postgame watermelon victory ritual, which some saw as perpetuating demeaning stereotypes of African-Americans.

Michael Bobby, the district’s chief financial officer, is serving as acting superintendent. The board promoted Chief Academic Officer Lisa Herring to serve as deputy superintendent of academics. Bobby and Herring have both declined to speculate about whether their futures could include serving permanently as superintendent.

Paul Krohne, executive director of the S.C. School Boards Association, said there are a variety of ways a school board can go about finding a new superintendent, including hiring from within, contracting with a search firm or conducting its own search.

Most often, Krohne said, school boards engage private firms or organizations, such as the school boards association, to help find qualified candidates. The association has a contract with a Nebraska-based search firm to assist its members in finding superintendents.

The biggest benefit to using a search firm, Krohne said, is getting help with recruiting qualified candidates.

“To know where the talent is and to be able to match up the talent ... that’s something school board members don’t have the capacity to do,” Krohne said.

The Berkeley County School Board has hired national search firm BWP & Associates to aid in finding its next superintendent as Rodney Thompson steps down July 31. The Berkeley board has set a timeline to have a new leader in place by May.

Krohne said the next few months are the “peak search period” for superintendent candidates interested in taking a position for the next school year — something he said the Charleston board needs to keep in mind.

“I would encourage them to make a decision on what they’re going to do and get the process started,” Krohne said.

School board member Todd Garrett said he would like to have a new superintendent in place by the summer. But he’s not worried if the board’s search goes past that time frame.

“If we are not able to (appoint a superintendent) by then, we are in good hands with Mr. Bobby as the acting superintendent,” Garrett said.

Coats agreed that time is of the essence if the board wants a new superintendent in place for the next school year. But the district has some “great leaders” in Bobby and Herring, Coats said, and that there’s no need to rush the process.

“It gives us the luxury to take our time to do this right,” she said.