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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 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.

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 .

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 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 ’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 , 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.

Conny March 06, 2012 at 09:20 PM
I'm a bit dismayed with this particular piece of journalism since it only seems to represent community members who take issue with this approach to appoint a new superintendent. Where are those, like me, who support this tack? I can tell you there are many. And personally, I'd rather see the limited dollars in our district go toward our children's education than a sweeping superintendent search. And what better way ensure a smooth transition from one to another than hiring from within -- a more-than-common (and quite successful) practice in the private sector? We elect our school board and entrust them to make wise decisions on our behalf, and I'm comfortable and pleased with their approach in this instance. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Mr. McDavid is a wonderful, qualified and competent candidate whom I'd be happy to see as superintendent of this district.
Stephanie Pandolfi March 06, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I like Dennis McDavid. And I agree that spending a lot of already limited funds on an external search might not make the most sense. However, I take serious issue with the rationale being used by the board to justify only interviewing one internal candidate. So Mary Beth Fitzpatrick would be harder to replace? Doesn't that mean that she's excellent at her job??? Talk about taking the path of least resistance! Forego not only a search for a qualified, EXPERIENCED superintendent (keep in mind that Dennis has only been a district administrator since 2009! He was only a principal for 2 years and a teacher for 1 year before that!) outside the district, but also avoid even the IDEA of hiring a much more experienced administrator from within the district because having to replace her would be more challenging. The Board claims to be concerned about divisiveness, however, the feeling here reminds me of the whole bond issue that divided the community a few years ago - the public gets a patronizing pat on the head while the Board goes and does what they think is best.
marla jansen March 06, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I like him too. He's honest and forthright. I trust my elected officials as well. But I would be an irresponsible citizen if I did not also provide them with feedback. Otherwise they might think I support decisions to keep me in the dark about things like http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-21/news/chi-lake-forest-principal-who-sexted-resigns-20111120_1_resignation-steinert-lake-forest-school-district that happened 2 years ago but was exposed right around the time a new job opened up or that I didn't want to know about why half of my beloved teachers wanted to transfer out of the school. This is not the private sector so the board members get to hear our opinions. That's why they wanted to be where they are; to get input. It is known that Mike Simeck's resume was in Chicago in November. I don't understand why a decision is just being discussed in these weeks following a February resignation and why anyone is put in a position to worry about a smooth transition with just a few months left. It is a great illustration of why keeping things the way they are may not be the only option to consider. We should have had more time to do this the right way. More input; As a community. As I said, I like Dennis a lot. I'm ready to see the board spring into action with new energy. I think this final act of leadership and exit strategy speaks volumes to a culture whose time has ended. I look forward to supporting the new leadership.
I like him quite a bit; our district cannot afford to do another search. The dollars we have need to be used for our children. We are lucky. We have many within the administration who are qualified for this post. Dennis is fabulous with parents, students and teachers. He knows the district inside and out. He is well liked and just seems to 'get it.'
Angela Tolly March 07, 2012 at 02:35 AM
For those who support interviewing only one candidate that is fine, if you know that candidate on a professional level. I, however do not. So, I can not attest to Mr. McDavid's qualifications or leadership experience. I have read his bio and I am undecided. I am sure he is a notable Human Resource Director, but does that make him a shoe in for superintendent? I understand that the district wants to save money, but at who's expense? I want what is best for our kids and not just an administrator who is the easiest to replace, or least disruptive to the administrative staff and their distinctive roles. Our kids and community deserve the best educational opportunities and leadership, and if the Board is only to consider ONE candidate then they are doing a disservice.

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