Superintendent Mary Jo Hainstock is retiring after serving the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District for the last 11 years. Selecting her replacement will be a time-consuming process for the school board, and a vitally important one affecting school staff, students, parents, and all residents of the school district.
What follows is an edited interview of school board president Rob Levis and vice-president Sue Gates.
ROB: “We are disappointed that Mary Jo is leaving us because her work here has led to some phenomenal successes for our schools. We still have challenges to address, but we are extremely pleased with the progress we’ve made during her tenure. So while it is hard to see Mary Jo’s tenure end, we look forward to selecting the next superintendent who will take our district on to more great successes and accomplishments.”
SUE: “We feel strongly as a board that we want to continue the work of developing a true partnership between the community and the school district. The community was involved when the FFA learning facility was built, when the athletic field was constructed, and we’ve involved the community as a valued partner in other decisions. I believe the attitude of involving and trusting the community as a partner in education needs to continue because we need the community’s support.
“What we are envisioning for the superintendent selection process is for people from Shellsburg, Garrison, Vinton, and all over the district to help with this extremely important decision.
Because this procedure is more involved than a part-time, volunteer board can do on its own.
“The board has hired a search firm, McPherson Jacobsen, to help find and vet candidates for the VS superintendent’s position. The search firm will be administering personality and aptitude tests, contacting candidate references, and asking those references to give three more names of people familiar with the applicant. They’ll continue expanding the number of references until they have completed 36 reference checks for each finalist candidate.”
ROB: “Without a search firm as an intermediary, the board can be perceived as micromanaging the process, and that’s a red flag to experienced administrators. Our role as a board is to hire the best possible senior administrator, to evaluate the performance of that administrator, and set policies for the administrative team to implement. We don’t manage buildings, call off classes due to bad weather, or review teacher performance. We need an administrator we can trust to do all the work of managing the district while we stay focused on the broader picture of what our communities expect of our schools.
“We’re also going to involve people based on functional areas. We are looking forward to the involvement of teachers, administrators, staff, and students in this process.”
SUE: “Our goal is to find the right fit for us, but also for us to be the right fit for the candidate. That involves showing off the communities in our school district, and sharing what a great place this is to work, live, learn, and enjoy recreational activities. Our school district is a great place to live, and we need to share that.”
ROB: “The board intends to include the interests of everyone; the people who work here, the people that study here, the families that send their children here, the taxpayers who provide support, grandparents, business owners…we mean EVERYONE.
“Sue and I also reached out to Todd Wiley, who was the board president, when Mary Jo was hired, to ask him of his thoughts on what went well in that process and what he might have done differently if he had it all to do over again. It’s been 12 years since a Vinton-Shellsburg board has done this, and we want to get it right.
“We think about it this way. The education of a child and the opportunities they have for the next 60 to 70 years will reflect the quality of their school, and that will be a reflection of the quality of the leadership this school district has. That means the person we choose will impact our communities for decades, and it’s vitally important to get this right.”