National firm will help GRPS seek superintendent

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The board of education for Grand Rapids Public Schools decided Monday evening to find and hire a national search firm as it restarts its search for a new superintendent.

In the meantime, the board plans to appoint an interim superintendent from within the district before outgoing Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal retires in June.

Earlier this month, school board members voted against hiring either of the two finalists for the superintendent job.

“We have to have somebody in place,” board member Katherine Downes Lewis said during the Monday meeting. “Dragging our feet like this is just not good for anybody.”

GRPS School Board President Kristian Grant agreed, assuring Downes Lewis that no one is “dragging their feet.” Instead, she said that the board is being intentional with its decisions as things move forward.

Grant suggested the board seek requests for proposals from national search firms. During its last search, GRPS worked with the Michigan Association of School Boards, paying $9,000. Board members said national firms carry an average price tag of between $20,000 and $40,000.

The draw of hiring a national search firm, according to the majority of board members who spoke up, is that it would cast a wider net, its sole focus is recruiting and it can lure top talent it believes would make a good fit.

“When we’re thinking about our next superintendent, that may be someone who is not currently looking, that doesn’t know that they want to be in Grand Rapids yet. That’s advantage of having a firm that’s more focused on recruitment: they make those calls and they make the invitation,” Board Vice President Jen Schottke said.

Grant said one national firm already told her that finding a new superintendent could take until next year if they want top candidates.

“People that are desirable would be under contract (right now). Most people would be looking or discussing new positions in the Fall,” Grant said to the board. “The people who are not under contract are usually not the people that we would want.”

The board voted Monday to post the interim superintendent job internally. The plan is to have legal counsel and executives from the district’s human resources department draft a job posting to email to the board as soon as possible. The board will review it and come to a May 6 meeting with suggestions and questions. Board members plan to approve the job posting and post it the next day. They would close application submissions by May 12 and vote on internal applicants the next day.

They couldn’t start the process Monday because no legal counsel or HR representatives attended the meeting.

“You (the board) should have had someone here, the attorney, if you need her or someone in her spot,” said Mari Jo Thompson, a longtime foster care mother who attended the meeting. “You should have these answers right now while you’re here. That’s why you had this meeting. But instead we’re going out weeks again to get something done.”

Tompson said she’s been tracking this process since the beginning. She worries the board may not find someone internally by May 13, creating a domino effect of problems for a district racing against time.

“All of us know that the end of the school year is coming up and we want our staff and our families to feel supported and know who will be helping them complete their best work until we have this permanent person in place,” Grant told 24 Hour News 8 after the meeting.

There was discussion that if the district doesn’t find a suitable internal candidate, it will consider external candidates like former university presidents or superintendents.

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