County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

BOE Selects Superintendent Candidate to Lead District Forward

And the winner is…


HARRISON – It has been an eventful week for the Harrison Community Schools District, as it pursued finding the right candidate to fill the soon-to-be-vacated superintendent position created by the retirement of Rick Foote. On April 26, the HCS Board of Education interviewed three candidates for the superintendent of schools position. In order of interview, they were Michael Hugan, Deckerville Community Schools Superintendent; Judy Walton, Eastern Middle School Principal, Forest Hills Public Schools; and Kelly Lipovsky, Director of Curriculum and Instruction/Director of Federal and State Grants, Harrison Community Schools.

In that first round of interviews, done in 50-minute segments, each candidate was introduced to the board and described their education, professional employment history, and their current positions. That was followed by each BOE member asking the same questions of each candidate, 15 questions in all: questions that addressed the concerns brought through the community survey and townhall meeting which had been conducted early in the process.

Through their responses, the candidates revealed their varied experiences and their differing education styles/philosophies, as well as what strengths they could bring to the position of superintendent. After weighing those responses, receiving comment cards from educators, HCS staff, and community members in attendance, the board members made known their choices for the second round of interviews.

Dave Moore, Michigan Association of School Boards representative, continued his guidance as he urged board members to be realistic about their choices. He noted that one of the candidates was interviewing the next day for the Clare-Gladwin RESD superintendent position to be created with the retirement of Sheryl Presler. That was to ensure board members were not making any assumptions about the guaranteed availability of any one candidate.

What ensued was an interesting case study in practicality and loyalty, as the board was asked to vote on how many candidates should be invited back for the second round of interviews. The sense that all three should return was fueled by the fear that if one or two did decline or take a different position, it would leave the board with no one to fill the superintendent position, which would require starting the whole search process all over again.

Four voted to bring back all three, and two voted for only two, with one being willing to do either. Moore urged that candidates be brought back only if the board truly wanted them as a viable/desired hire. After the majority of board members opted to bring back only two, the question became which two?

The two board members who had originally opted for two candidates also very carefully, thoughtfully and directly explained their reasons for choosing the outside candidates over the in-house candidate. One noted, with great respect, the extraordinary intellect, vast knowledge and expertise possessed by Kelly Lipovsky, but added that she was tremendously effective in her current position, but didn’t believe as well-suited for the superintendent position. The second board member said that it was a simple choice; noting that everyone he’d asked whether they wanted “the same” or “something different,” had replied they wanted something different.

After some back and forth discussion, one board member suggested there had been nearly all in-house hirings for the superintendency, and the one exception cited had not worked out well. That member also expressed concern that people moving on to other school districts may likely be career climbing or could have skeletons in their closets.

The other board members were quick to note that career growth is a normal, desirable thing in any career – and that implying an unsavory history was unwarranted.

At its final vote, the board voted 6-1 to one to invite Hugan and Walton back for the second interviews. Next, the board was set to the task of establishing its second set of interview questions, which were to be sent along for compilation by Moore as had been done for the previous round.

That led to the final round of interviews Monday, May 2, in which both Hugan and Walton provided thorough, thoughtful answers to all questions put to them. Each provided a requested 90-day plan they would implement if selected. Hugan’s bullet-pointed list was simple and to the point, and offered with examples of how the items were pertinent. Walton’s plan was presented in the form of a circular graphic, noting groupings of actions which could be implemented in whatever sequence turned out to be most expedient by need.

Again, the candidates answered board members’ questions – 18 this time. Closing out each Q&A, the candidates had the opportunity to ask the board one question, which was revealing as to how they might approach discovery and problem-solving in this district.

After a long break and consideration of what they had learned from the candidates – and weighing more written audience commentary – board members each spoke of the positive aspects brought by the individual candidates. There also was reporting by board member Kendra Durga and Dave Moore about their references follow-up – both of which were full verification of what had been presented previously. Durga’s discovery had yielded nothing but highly positive responses, not only from Walton’s listed references, but also from others sought out by Durga, including parents of students.

Then it was time to pony up some opinions, and Moore advised the board of the “extreme importance of the board being unified in its vote,” and that a job offer should never be made on a 4-3 vote. He said a 5-2 vote could be OK, but that a 7-7 vote is the best consensus to convey positive support to candidates.

That led to the first straw (unofficial) vote, which was 5-2 in favor of Walton. Opposing members spoke of their reasoning, which included Hugan being more experienced in superintendency, and Walton being perhaps too well-researched (implying possibly presenting what the board wanted to hear). Comments continued, noting specific candidate responses, particularly Walton’s emphasis on a student-focused approach including bringing joy back to learning, and bringing the community together in pursuit of unified goals – most specifically standing firm in a strategy of pursuing only things that will truly benefit children, because anything else is simply a waste of time. In her words: “developing a culture of learning and a culture of pride.”

Also of import was Walton’s unequivocal statement that she had not applied for any of the myriad positions currently posted in the state, and of her desire to specifically work for HCS and its students.

Before the final vote, Moore advised: “Whoever you choose will need your support, and it’s important for [enabling] them to carry on the mission of the district.”

Durga offered a keen observation of what has happened in the district, and the need to fix it.

“We want someone who can move us forward, catch a vision, more Hornet Pride, and having us be the school to go to – where people want to teach and want to send their kids,” she said. “In every aspect, something is preventing that from happening. I don’t totally know what that is, but I feel like Judy would be willing to dig into that.”

When a formal vote was called, Walton received a 6-1 vote, which led to an offer of the position/contract negotiation to Walton. Moore informed her of the offer. When he returned, he informed that she had “accepted and was very excited and grateful for the offer.”

The next step is contract negotiations, which Moore said can be accomplished in as soon as one week. Thus, the BOC may be completing the process at the May 9 monthly meeting.

The next morning, HCS issued an official statement, notifying of the selection.


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