Lynne Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
James A. Sutton was approved as the new interim superintendent for Gardner-Edgerton School District USD 231 at the February 7 school board meeting.
Sutton will serve as the interim superintendent effective immediately until June 30, 2022.
The unanimous decision by board members was made after over an hour of executive session.
“I am nothing but excited about coming to USD 231 and assisting the rest of the fiscal year helping out to do what I can,” he said.
Sutton said he had listened to quite a few different perspectives where the district was currently at and planning on going.
“As mentioned there are so many parallels in my 28 years as super as to what the needs of the district are,” he said. “I’m impressed how resolved the board is on working together when it is ripe for polarization.”
Sutton said he was impressed the board decided to work together.
“Wanting to move the district forward is the best anyone could ask for, and I appreciate the support.”
Greg Chapman, board member, said he wanted to know if there was any relation between him and the board president Lana Sutton.
Katie Williams, board member, said she had done extensive research and found no connection.
Jody Marshall, human resources director, said Sutton brings a wealth of experience.
“He will be a strong addition with a steady hand,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, GNEA representative and Pioneer Ridge Middle School Computer teacher Angela Hansen presented to the board the survey results from teachers about the interim superintendent search.
Hansen said 250 people of the 515 surveys sent out had responded with their top priorities being transparency, approachability and visibility.
Leadership style of being a servant, pacesetter, democratic, coach and visionary with communication with teachers, families and communities along with a culture of trust and values were common themes, she said.
Hansen said having a clear direction and dedicated director for the special education programs were also top priority.
“A common thread was being very open and very honest,” she said. “I truly believe in our community-we truly have amazing teachers in this district.”
Hansen said she was concerned and wanted to keep teachers in the district.
“They have a wealth of knowledge—they are your trench people day in and day out,” she said. “They see what works and where the bumps are—they are the problem solvers.”
Hansen said teachers spend more time with kids than their parents and have valuable input.
She also said she had been part of the previous committees with the district in choosing superintendents.
Kristin Schultz, board member, said she wanted to know how those previous committees operated.
Hansen said they had two groups: one comprising of the board, administrators and directors and the second compromised of representatives from each school building.
“We did a round robin piece and rotated all day,” she said. “We weeded through down to five candidates, scheduled interviews and then would all meet to discuss as a collective group one through five and have a dialogue of common ground.”
Hansen said they all felt they had a vested interest.
“It shows cooperation and a working environment and builds a level of trust,” she said.
Chapman said he was unaware of how previous people had done it.
“I see and appreciate the value of not just administrators but people who are directly involved with our kids day in and day out,” he said. “I appreciate the initiative to do that and try to work together and rebuild relationships.”
Hansen said she had been fortunate to have meetings with Lana Sutton, board president, and Tom Reddin, board vice president, and Jody Marshall, human resources director..
“I’m always happy to give information and share information,” she said. “I never want to hear you say you didn’t know.”
Hansen said she was always there to help to make the best decisions for the district.
“We are an amazing district with fabulous people—people truly vested in the community,” she said. “I’m truly proud of what we have.”
Schultz thanked the people who answered the survey. “The comments were honest and raw,” she said.
Reddin said he had made it around the district and talked to a lot of people.
“We as a board have the same objective—look out for the best interest of students, staff, district and community,” he said. “We all want to be the best district in the state.”
Reddin said teachers want communication, to be heard, be seen in buildings and have involvement.
“But reading comments there is a sense of a lack of trust in the board, and we as a board have only been a board since January 10,” he said. “We as a board all want the same things.”
Reddin said he had been present in buildings and would start attending after hours events.
“We are listening,” he said. “We are visible and accessible and listening to what you have to say.”
Sutton said her and Reddin had met with GNEA to make sure communication with the district was starting.
“We want to hear what teachers need,” she said. “We are making good progress quickly because of open flow communication and working together.”
Schultz said she wanted to clarify there wasn’t a lack of trying before.
“But I think what we need to concentrate on is backing up what we say up here—there’s a little bit of apprehension and PTSD in the district,” she said. “When we say we include clout from certain groups we do. Talk is cheap. We need to make sure we practice what we preach.”
Chapman said he was looking forward to being out in the buildings again.
Schultz and other board members thanked temporary stand in superintendent Mark Meyers for his time.
Schultz said she wanted to thank administrators and directors for their time navigating through a bumpy period.
“And putting up with shenanigans that took place in front of you,” she said. “I’m excited for the interview process we went through with the interim and we did a good job vetting our candidates this time and we could t have done it without you guys.”
After another executive session, the board also voted unanimously to do a formal search for the permanent superintendent by hiring McPherson and Jacobson to conduct the external search and also posting the job position.
Jody Marshall, Human Resources director, said the most important variable was time.
“The clock is ticking down before July,” he said. “We have to get this right and know there is a full commitment.”
Schultz said she wanted to know what the cost difference was between an internal search and hiring a firm.
Marshall said internally it mostly cost time and an outside firm would range anywhere from $11,000 to $22,000.
“I don’t think there is a more vested group than this room but what these people do the money is well spent,” he said. “They have a good specific model and timeline.”
Marshall said 70 superintendent vacancies in the State were anticipated this year.
“The competition is fierce,” he said.