Earlier Friday morning, school board members voted 7-0 to hire Illinois-based BWP & Associates to lead the search for the next superintendent of ABSS.
Kevin Castner and E. Wayne Harris – both of whom are based in Virginia and led the last search that led to Benson’s hiring in March 2018 – will oversee the search.
Benson, who had been superintendent of ABSS since July 2018, announced on September 30 that he had requested an early release from his contract with ABSS, which was set to expire in June 2025.
In mid-October, school board members granted Benson a leave of absence after he suffered a medical emergency while riding his bicycle in his neighborhood in Burlington. The board voted last week to approve Benson’s request for an early release from his contract, which takes effect January 1.
Harris had said during an earlier discussion with school board members that BWP & Associates would charge the same rate they charged for the last superintendent search they conducted for ABSS, $22,500, plus expenses for travel and administrative/clerical work.
School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves confirmed for The Alamance News after the special-called meeting Friday afternoon that BWP & Associates has, in fact, agreed to charge the same rate, $22,500, to conduct the latest search for a superintendent.
Harris and Castner joined school board members Friday morning via an online teleconferencing platform for a brief follow-up discussion about the search process.
Open or confidential search process to be decided later
School board members tentatively agreed this week that they will decide by mid-January 2022 whether to use an open search process – in which finalists would be announced publicly and would meet with members of the community – or a confidential search in which only the final selection is announced following closed-session interviews with the board.
In the meantime, Castner and Harris will work with school board members to develop a “leadership profile”; determine how the vacancy will be advertised; and to schedule meetings with members of the community and various organizations in the county, based on an overview of the process that Harris and Castner outlined Friday morning.
Like the last search, BWP & Associates will survey ABSS staff, families, and community members about what qualities and experience they think the next superintendent should have. The survey that BWP conducted in late 2017 generated more than 2,000 responses, Castner told school board members during their special-called meeting.
Applications for the superintendent vacancy will come through the firm’s website, which Harris and Castner will evaluate and from which they’ll recommend prospective candidates for interviews with the board.
The last search for ABSS drew applications from 65 people, which Castner described this week as a “pretty robust pool,” though he added that the applicant pools for other searches BWP has conducted in recent months have shrunk as a result of Covid-19. He said that superintendent vacancies in general are drawing about 20 fewer applications on average than they had prior to the pandemic.
Castner said that 26 sitting superintendents had applied during the last search the firm conducted for ABSS in 2017-18. While he seemed optimistic about how many candidates might apply this time, Castner pointed out that not all would be a good fit for ABSS “because you have such a large system.”
Castner and Harris told school board members Friday morning that they will conduct the initial interviews with prospective finalists via Zoom.
From there, the search team will conduct routine professional background checks, as well as extensive background checks that include screening social media websites and Google searches to “make sure there are no surprises,” Castner and Harris explained.
While the entire candidate pool will be disclosed to school board members, the team will recommend which candidates to bring in for interviews and why, the search team said Friday morning.
Many prospective applicants will not necessarily be a good fit for ABSS, Castner said, as they’re likely to come from school systems that aren’t “as demanding or quite as complex.” His and Harris’ background – both are retired longtime superintendents – helps them to identify the candidates who are best-able to meet the needs of a large and diverse school system such as ABSS, Castner said Friday morning.
“Someone such as a deputy [superintendent] from a system with 60,000 [students] would have experience in dealing with the complexities you have,” Castner elaborated.
The team will work with school board members to develop a leadership profile – after gathering input from ABSS families, staff, and the community – to determine who to recommend for interviews, Harris said, adding that he and Castner have led 38 superintendent searches together.
School board member Ryan Bowden acknowledged this week that he had leaned toward the board conducting its own search – with help from an outside recruiting firm to conduct background checks and handle other administrative tasks – but said he’d changed his mind.
“I came in here with a different thought process about how we were going to do this,” Bowden said Friday morning, “but after hearing from them, I have no issues supporting this motion [to hire BWP & Associates to lead the search],” which ended up being unanimous.