Any concern candidate Dennis McDavid may have felt interviewing for Berkley Schools’ top job Tuesday night likely evaporated once he walked into the school board’s conference room to a round of applause.
Dressed smartly in a dark suit, McDavid flashed a smile toward the crowd of mainly parents who came to hear his answers to a variety of questions posed to him by the Board of Education and the audience about his qualifications for superintendent of schools.
Current Superintendent Michael Simeck , effective at the end of the school year. Following past practice of looking internally for superintendent candidates, the board .
Upon taking his seat, McDavid delivered opening remarks recalling a bucolic-evoking childhood in Indiana and the emphasis his parents placed on education for him — and his 12 brothers and sisters.
“I come from a family and background where education is very important,” McDavid said. “In our family, you were rewarded for being persistent.”
He then went on to share his transition from private business to education, mainly at the insistence of his wife, to whom he has been married for 17 years. Because it was at her urging, he said, that gave him the confidence to leave a financially lucrative career in automotive supply and become credentialed as a teacher.
After time spent in the classroom as an English teacher at , McDavid was promoted to principal before he was hired in his current role as director of the district’s human resources department.
Board tests the candidate
One by one, members of the school board read off their questions to McDavid, allowing him to demonstrate a calm, collected and methodical approach to administering staff, interaction with students and a communication prowess with parents.
“You have worked with (outgoing superintendent) Mike Simeck. If you are selected to succeed him, to what extent will you share the same vision?” asked school board President Paul Ellison, adding “and how will it differ?”
After a brief pause, McDavid first praised his chief by commenting that Simeck is “the best boss I have ever had.” He went on to describe several accomplishments that Simeck championed, including a China initiative that garnered approval by several board members. He also hedged his bet by stating that if something turns out to yield less than desirable results, he would not hesitate to recalibrate.
“I’m not sure that I would say Simeck and I will be in lock step,” McDavid said. “We have a lot of great things going on in this district and I think we always need to seek out new opportunities; you can’t be afraid to tweak a vision.”
Board Treasurer Mary Jo Israel asked the candidate to speak of his experience in dispute resolution. Her colleague Roger Blake asked how the prospect would handle divergent opinions when trying to pilot the district.
Perhaps the most difficult question posed to McDavid came from one of the board’s more contemplative members, Mitchell Moses, when he asked whether the candidate would consider reviving a school bond initiative for physical plant and technology improvements that failed miserably in 2010.
“The bond issue is big and remains so,” McDavid said. “We need to have an assessment of the facilities; we know our phone system is on its last legs and one day it’s gonna fail. As well, providing students with technology is an important thing.”
McDavid, speaking to a chief complaint leveled against his current boss, emphasized the need to effectively communicate exactly what a bond initiative would be used for, why it is necessary and why it is supported by the stakeholders — i.e. parents.
The questions concluded with Trustee Ron Justice asking whether McDavid would follow in Simeck’s footsteps as a vocal advocate of education in Lansing. In response, McDavid said his main focus would be to ensure a smooth transition, establishing relationships and strengthening the ties between the district and its customers, to which he received unspoken approval by more than one board member.
Questions from the community
With more than 125 people present, it was virtually impossible for the board to allow unfettered comment by the audience. The compromise instead was that seven questions would be asked from the audience by way of written comment cards and read aloud by a board member.
Sheryl Stoddard, the board’s secretary, collated the questions and created amalgams based upon both the submissions and questions that had yet to be asked, most of which dealt with McDavid’s plans for the future, his opinions on special education programing and finances.
One of the last questions, and certainly the simplest, asked McDavid why, in a political environment seemingly hostile toward public education, would he want the job?
“I can’t think of a better district and I am immensely proud of the work we do day in and out; it’s a fantastic thing to be a part of,” McDavid said. “One of my concerns when I found out that Mike was leaving was that someone who wasn’t familiar with the district would come in and not understand what Berkley is all about; it’s part of my calculus in deciding to come here tonight.”
Next step is March 12 board meeting
The school board concluded the special session at by noting it would not take action on the hiring issue until its next regularly scheduled meeting March 12. Ellison then offered the public an additional comment period.
Two people spoke, including Berkley Mayor Phil O’Dwyer, who offered praise to the school board for championing an internal candidate who may not have the alphabet soup after his name like other superintendents.
“I am so proud of the courage and wisdom of the board for looking within,” ODwyer said, adding that the board “values talent, leveraging it for the benefit of our students.”