Harford school superintendent search under way

The Harford County Board of Education announced this week it has begun the first of two phases leading to the selection of a permanent superintendent of schools by July 2014.

Phase I will develop the criteria for the ideal superintendent candidate for the school system, according to a news release.

"In order to develop those criteria, the Board will conduct 10 focus group sessions with different community groups that represent all stakeholders, including elected/government officials; business/community leaders; HCPS leadership team members; support staff; central office staff; principals; teachers; parents; students; and, employee association leadership," the release states.

In addition to the focus groups, three public forums will be held during the phase; however, it is not clear from the news release how long this part of the process will take. The schedule for the forums is:

• Wednesday, Dec. 18, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air;

• Thursday, Dec. 19, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., A.A. Roberty Building Board Room in Bel Air; and

• Thursday, Dec. 19, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Havre de Grace High School.

According to the school system news release, each focus group will consist of up to 15 participants. A committee of board members will select the participants based on interest gauged from an invitation that was sent out Tuesday.

"In order to implement an equitable process, the Board has contracted Ray and Associates, a firm that has been conducting executive education searches since 1975, to help facilitate this first phase of the search process and the focus groups," the release states.

The estimated cost of using the outside contractor for this phase is approximately $7,500.

Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system, explained via e-mail Tuesday that "a blanket invite" went out Tuesday and Wednesday to stakeholder groups soliciting interest in participating in the focus groups. For example, she explained that all teachers will receive the invite.

Those interested in participating will RSVP to the school board, and its Superintendent Search Committee, which is being coordinated by board member Art Kaff, will select 15 participants per group to ensure a cross representation of the county and grade level, Kranefeld wrote, adding: "Once the focus groups have been developed, a confirmation e-mail will go to those participants by the search firm, Ray and Associates."

Consultants with Ray and Associates, according to the news release, include women and minorities and "are persons with long-term experience in the school executive search field with extensive backgrounds as school administrators, business executives, school board members, university professors and attorneys."

To provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to participate, an online survey, conducted by Ray and Associates, has been posted on the school system website, http://www.hcps.org to gather input from the entire community. All responses are anonymous and are sent directly to the search firm.

The online survey, which Kranefeld said is an opportunity for those who can't attend one of the public meetings to participate, will be open until Jan. 10 at 8 a.m.

Robert Tomback, the previous Harford superintendent, left office when his five-year contract expired in July. He had notified the school board several months earlier that he did not wish to be considered for another term and was replaced on an interim basis by Barbara Canavan, a veteran educator in the Harford school system.

In selecting Canavan to serve as an interim superintendent, the school board decided she should serve in that position until July 1, 2014, to give the board sufficient time to make a permanent hire.

Under Canavan's interim contract, she can be considered for the permanent appointment if she chooses, Kranefeld explained. "Mrs. Canavan will make that determination and announcement at the appropriate time," Kranefeld wrote.

During the six-month process that led to Tomback's selection in 2009, the school board at the time farmed out the screening of initial applicants out to a search firm associated with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or MABE. The board selected and interviewed four finalists, one of whom as Tomback.

Kranefeld said the second phase of the selection process would include advertising the position, collecting and screening applications, interviews and, ultimately, negotiating the contract.

"The Board has only contracted for Phase I at this time," she wrote in response to a question whether the board has decided to use a consultant in evaluating applicants, as was done five years ago.

Canavan's base salary as interim superintendent is $179,400, according to Kranefeld. Tomback was hired at a base salary of $190,00 and was making $202,000 when he left.

According to the contract she signed to serve as interim superintendent, Canavan was given a right of first refusal "to a position comparable to the position she is vacating to take this [interim superintendent] assignment," if she does not apply for permanent appointment as superintendent.

She was previously executive director of the county's nine middle schools, a post created during Tomback's administration that the school board eliminated last summer.

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