Berkley School Board Moves Quickly to Replace Outgoing Superintendent
With a public interview of a single internal candidate set for tonight, some are unhappy or puzzled over a lack of an external search or more candidates to consider.
Three weeks after Berkley Schools Superintendent Mike Simeck announced he would resign at the conclusion of 2011-12 academic year, the Board of Education plans to unveil its top — and thus far only — choice to replace him during tonight’s school board special session.
The unusual public interview of applicant Dennis McDavid, currently Berkley Schools’ human resources director, takes place amid concerns by some that a decision by the board to forgo an external candidate search may be shortsighted.
In a statement released to parents last week by board President Paul Ellison enumerating reasons he and other board members demurred on looking outside the district for a new superintendent, the one-page letter focused on two key rationales: timing and public unity.
The statement read, in part:
By mid-February … about a dozen other local school districts had already completed superintendent searches or were in the advanced stages of the process. As a result, many of the external candidates reputed to be the “most qualified” are no longer available for the upcoming … school year.
The search process in many of the other local districts proved to be highly divisive … and very fractious … Berkley has an established precedent of selecting internal candidates for the superintendent's position … Berkley already has 'best-in-the-industry' talent to step in and do great work.
In a follow-up interview, Ellison said the board’s invitation to McDavid was not an offer or letter of intent, rather McDavid was asked if he would be interested in the position and, if so, he should apply and interview.
“We could have appointed someone to the position directly versus an interview process,” Ellison said. “But a majority of the board felt a [public] interview would be an opportunity for parents to see what Dennis is made of.”
Ellison suggested that McDavid was perhaps the most attractive qualified candidate among the district’s top brass based on the belief that an opening in human resources would be less disruptive than vacancies in other critical departments, including Deputy Superintendent Larry Gallagher in finance and Director Mary Beth Fitzpatrick in curriculum.
“Larry and Mary Beth are each critical in their current positions,” Ellison explained, adding that McDavid’s experience, and interaction with many of the district’s mid-level administrators and rank and file teachers would help with a transition that can often turn rancorous.
HR director rises to top of candidate pool
While Ellison said Simeck kept the board apprised of his meetings with Lake Forest, the scramble to find a qualified replacement for Simeck began shortly after the district accepted the superintendent’s resignation Feb. 14.
A day later, school board officials held a public meeting discussing how best the district should proceed with succession plans and assessing whether initiatives put in place by the now-outgoing superintendent still made sense to continue.
The candidate who, according to Ellison, received near unanimous support for the impending vacant leadership role was McDavid, a former Berkley High School English teacher and principal who also had a 13-year career in the private sector before choosing to become an educator.
According to his bio, McDavid earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Oakland University in Rochester. According to his LinkedIn profile, the Berkley School District has employed him since 2005.
Simeck's tenure a mixed bag
As Simeck navigates the district through the remaining three-plus months of his lame duck administration, the superintendent's departure has brought about mixed feelings that seemingly correspond with a mixed record.
At once both a popular administrator and lightening rod for controversy, Simeck has been the steward of a small but highly successful school district that was donned one of the nation’s “public elites” by Newsweek magazine.
Similarly, Simeck oversaw the failed bid to reinvent the district’s physical plants through a $167 million bond effort that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in 2010, and which left a bad taste in many parents’ mouths.
“While I think it’s strange to only have one candidate for the job, I hope that the school board uses this opportunity to regain control of how the district is run,” said Marla Jansen, an executive member of Norup International School’s Parent Teacher Association and the mother of two second-grade students, referring to the departure of Simeck and his leadership style.
“Some parents liked him and others were extremely unhappy,” Jansen said. “The opportunity we have right now is to have a strong board reclaim the district and this (new) person might let people do their jobs.”
Some unhappy over process
Midge Ashen Lusardi was perplexed as to why the district chose not to also look outside the district for a candidate. "Why use the failure of other school districts as an excuse not to recruit talent from around the state or country?," she commented on the Berkley Patch Facebook page. "... How can the district move forward if it always draws its administrators from the same pool?"
Stephanie Jaffee Pandolfi expressed her frustration with the process. "I don't understand why they are only looking at ONE internal candidate, when there is at least one other person who SHOULD be considered," she commented on Facebook. "It feels an awful lot like a formality, a foregone conclusion, which is really frustrating. I think the board owes it to the public that voted them into office to do their due diligence."
If you go
- What: The Berkley Board of Education will interview Dennis McDavid, the district's director of Schools and Human Resources, for the superintendent's position being vacated by current Superintendent Mike Simeck at the end of the school year.
- When: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: Berkley Board of Education Conference Room at the district’s Administrative Offices, 14700 W. Lincoln, Oak Park
- What else: Members of the community are encouraged to attend special session. An opportunity will be provided for members of the community to submit a limited number of questions to be posed by the board to McDavid.
Come back to Patch for updates on this report.