What does it take to be a good school district superintendent?
According to Dr. William Clark, the only candidate put forth by the Warren County School District board of directors for a second round of interviews, being "approachable to all constituents" and always trying to make the district better, are two key characteristics. "I'm an advisor to the board," he added.
Clark was in the district on Thursday and participated in several focus groups with district administrators, teachers, support staff and members of the community.
Clark brings eight years of experience as a superintendent into this interview process, having served as superintendent at the Milton Area School District from 2004-2010 and at Manheim Central School District from 2010-2012. Before that, he served in various roles in the St. Marys Area School District from 1993-2004.
The Emporium native holds a doctorate in Educational Administration from the Pennsylvania State University.
Clark fielded a host of wide-ranging questions from a focus group that convened on Thursday afternoon at the Warren Area Elementary Center.
While he said he has not had experience in running a multi-high-school district, Clark said that he would "try to find someone with the same animal" as a means of learning more about the unique challenges such an arrangement presents.
When asked what he sees as the district's biggest hurdle, Clark said in his meetings with district staff he "heard concerns about morale" but noted that "you make your own sunshine" and there is a distinction between real morale loss and morale loss as a result of procedural deficiencies.
On the building issue, Clark said that if selected he would allow the plan in place to continue but will listen and seek to find ways to advise where possible. "They have a facilities plan," he said. "They're implementing the plan."
He explained that he received considerable feedback throughout the day that the district is interested in pursuing high school reform but acknowledged that a concerted effort must be made to learn the nuances in each of the high schools before such reform can take place.
Clark said all of the focus groups asked him about class size. Referencing the regulations associated with the Accountability Block Grant, Clark answered by saying 17-21 in K-2, with the regulations leaving the other grades open-ended. He said class size can be set by policy, teacher contract or through board presentation, but he did said that 29-30 is "starting to push the bubble."
When asked what he sees in Warren County that drew him to the position, he said in his meetings, he has seen passion from the teachers and heard positive things about administration. He said he was also interested because of the geographic location. In the people he met with on Thursday, Clark observed "a true passion to move ahead... (I) don't think the (passion) has been lost but needs resurrected."
Clark was asked why his tenure as superintendent at Manheim Central School District was relatively brief. He said he came into the position during a period of "building turmoil" and a majority of the district administrators left as a result. Two years later, Clark said the chemistry of the board changed and, with it, changed "the direction that people wanted to go."
According to reports published by the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, Clark was placed on administrative paid leave in September 2012 after an outside law firm was consulted to review the district's operations and personnel. At the time, Manheim Central School Board President Brian Howett would not provide any details regarding the situation but did say "it's nothing of a criminal nature." The paper reported in December that Clark resigned his post in November and settled with the school district. No official reason was given for the resignation, and, as part of the settlement agreement, both sides agreed not to make disparaging remarks about the other as per a "non-disparagement/neutral reference" clause.
The Manheim School District has just under 3,000 students served by one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools.
By contrast, the Warren County School District serves about 4,600 students in 12 facilities. When school begins in the fall, there will be two high schools, two middle/high schools, four elementary schools, one elementary/middle school, one middle school, a career/vocational center, and the Learning Enrichment Center.
A representative from the Pennsylvania School Board Association, the entity contracted to assist the district in the search, said he would be meeting with the school board later Thursday evening to review the information obtained from focus group participants.