Grand County School District officials are reviewing applications for the district’s next superintendent. Seven people have applied for the position.
In January, current Superintendent Margaret Hopkin announced she would retire June 30. She’s spent 33 years in the district.
The application period for her replacement closed April 11.
Saying the selection of the Grand County School District’s next superintendent is a big deal is an understatement.
“It’s really major,” said school board member Beth Joseph. “I’ve been starting to lose sleep over this whole thing recently. It’s a really heavy decision, and the board doesn’t take it lightly at all. I trust that whoever steps into that role will understand the gravity as well.”
The search for the next superintendent comes on the heels of a 2008 financial scandal that left many in Moab questioning the school district and its leaders.
In a nutshell, the school district’s former business administrator was inappropriately transferring money from one fund to another to pay for things like teacher salaries and utilities, school board members said.
“Money was not stolen,” said school board president Jim Webster. “But public perception was that it was.”
That administrator has since died, and the school district is back to a level playing field after being forced to lay off teachers and cut programs in the wake of the discovery.
But where the district goes from here is a crucial question.
And who leads them there is just as important.
“Our books are in order and we have stability enough in our district that folks can rest assured,” Joseph said. “We’re not looking ahead to greater cuts. We’re in the process of slowly rebuilding. But because of the nature of the last couple years, this new superintendent is going to need to have some really strong leadership skills and really bring together divergent viewpoints and really manage the unique challenges we have in Grand County.”
All seven who applied to help steer the school district in the right direction are from Utah or Idaho, Joseph said, including a few local applicants.
Just as school board members aren’t taking this decision lightly, they’re also not making the choice alone.
Rather, they’ve set up subcommittees comprised of parents, teachers, staff members, administrators, civic leaders and other community members.
Those groups reviewed applications Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday chose which candidates to bring in as finalists.
Interviews will take place next week. Two people from each of the two subcommittees, the entire school board and the district’s business administrator will serve on the interview committee.
The board plans to announce the new superintendent on May 16, Webster said.
Qualities officials are looking for include strong leadership and management skills, experience with school finances, law and policy and a public education background.
“We want this person to be well-versed in a variety of educational leadership components – special ed law, teacher evaluations … across the board,” Joseph said. “We don’t have a lot of specialists in our schools – we don’t have a curriculum director, for example. So our new superintendent needs to be able to step in and lead our district in everything from discipline to emergency preparedness.”
Officials will give preference to people who have administrative experience in K-12 schools, Joseph said.
The process is definitely daunting, she said, and the next superintendent has big shoes to fill.
“With Margaret’s leadership over the last several years, we were just really blessed,” Joseph said. “She worked extremely hard, far, far above and beyond what we were able to compensate her for. The financial strains between those fund transfers and the fallout from that coupled with some state cuts just required incredible leadership.
“The community has really been looking to us to find the most competent individual.”
It’s not just the rebuilding process that makes this decision so great, Joseph said. It’s also the individuality of Moab and its schools.
What makes Moab unique is also what make the school district unique, Joseph said. That includes a tourism-based economy that creates a transient population, seasonal employment that leads to higher poverty rates and high levels of teenage drug and alcohol abuse that leads to teenage pregnancy, addiction and other problems.
“By the time our kids hit their teens, they’re struggling with a lot more risk factors than other towns of comparable size in the state of Utah and on the Western Slope,” Joseph said. “Those are all challenges that we face.”