2006-04-19 / Front Page

HELP WANTED: School Board must replace "irreplaceable" superintendent

By Charles Batchelor

HELP WANTED: School Board must replace "irreplaceable" superintendent

In a surprise spring break announcement

Elli Morris/Chesterfield Observer Dr. Billy K. Cannday, Jr., was appointed by Governor Tim Kaine as the new Superintendent of Public Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia last week.
last week, the county learned from Governor Timothy M. Kaine that Chesterfield's Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Billy K. Cannaday, Jr., will be leaving in July to serve as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Virginia Department of Education's chief executive.

The school board will hire Cannaday's replacement. Four of the current members of the board have worked through the selection process at least twice before. Only Tom Doland, who was elected to represent the Matoaca District in 2003, was not part of the board that selected Cannaday.

"I couldn't say this of every school system, but there is nothing in the Chesterfield County school system that should scare anyone away," Rob Jones said thoughtfully when asked about replacing Cannaday.

"There is going to be a lot of interest in this job from school superintendents throughout Virginia. You've got a highly functional system that's running well."

Jones, director of government relations for the Virginia Education Association, has seen all of Virginia's 132 school districts search for executive talent. Chesterfield is going to be swamped with resumes, he predicted.

"Chesterfield is viewed as having a fairly progressive school system," Jones added

Cannaday, who came from Hampton's school system, was named the 2005 Virginia Superintendent of the Year. In the five years that Chesterfield schools have been under Cannaday's watch, the county has gone from having less than half of its 59 schools being fully accredited by the state to 100 percent accredited.

"As a leader and educator, Dr. Cannaday focuses on improved achievement for all students, regardless of background," Kaine said last Wednesday in making the announcement. "His emphasis on accountability and success for students, parents, teachers, and administrators is clear: student scores are up and every school in Chesterfield County is now meeting Virginia's Standards of Learning benchmarks."

The county can't complain about the state poaching its executive talent. Before Cannaday, the county had hired away State Superintendent William Bousher. The school board members were alerted by Cannaday about a week before the official announcement. "It wasn't a surprise considering his stature, but it was bittersweet," School Board Member Beth Davis said. Echoing others close to the county school system, Cannaday's appointment to the state executive post was a surprise but not a shock, said Chesterfield Education Association President Lois Stanton. "There had been rumors, but time passed and nothing happened, so the rumors were discounted," she said, adding that the Governor's choice of Cannaday to fill the post was "excellent."

One of traits that impressed Stanton about Cannaday that would be important in his replacement was his communication skills. Stanton said Cannaday understood politics, but "wasn't political" in his decisions.

"He seems to stay focused on the children," she explained. "He sees the big picture. That will make him good in this new position, if he can stay focused like that."

A proven manager with experience in a large, growing school system such as Chesterfield's would be a likely winning candidate, said Stanton. Chesterfield is the fourth largest school division in Virginia with over 56,000 students and has been growing by about 1,000 students annually.

"It would be helpful if the new superintendent knew the region well, but that's not a high priority," the teachers' group chief said.

On the school board since 1990, this will be the fourth superintendent Davis helped hire.

Stressing that the board has not meet to outline its strategy, Davis said past school boards have held public meetings before determining the kind of leader it was seeking. "I don't know if we'll use an outside agency this time or not, but in the past we have turned to the Virginia School Board Association search service," she said.

While looking at candidates from everywhere, Davis noted that some talents aren't need here "The school superintendents in Virginia do not have teacher unions, the school board has no taxing authority and we've had elected school boards in the state for less than ten years."

Dianne E. Pettitt, Clover Hill District's school board member, said selecting the superintendent is the most important role the board plays. She said she will be looking for a candidate who understands students need to be prepared for "the workplace of the 21st Century. Our society is moving so rapidly, we need someone who sees the challenges our students will be facing in the future."

Davis and Pettitt both said they believed Chesterfield County is in a very good position to recruit outstanding candidates. "It will be very competitive," predicted Davis.

VEA's Jones said some of the school districts similar to Chesterfield's would includes Newport News, Prince William County, Roanoke County, Montgomery County and Albemarle County.

Jones said the school board might look inhouse this time for a superintendent, perhaps from the ranks of school principals. "You have some very good people there," he noted. "There is some wisdom gained from hiring inside. Or, they might consider someone from a smaller district, which is what they did when they hired Dr. Cannaday."

Chesterfield's Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. Dale Kalkofen, has been quoted as saying she is interested in the superintendent's job.

It is possible that the new State Superintendent of Public Instruction might want to fill couple of key positions with his own people.

It's unlikely, however, that many of the senior hands within the county school system would be tempted to go with Cannaday. Many have years in the county's retirement plan that making staying in place attractive, and the county's pay is as good or better than the state, according to sources in county government.

Cannaday is taking a $30,000 pay cut to take the state position. His annual salary will be about $158,000 at the state. His Chesterfield salary is $188,871.

Asked how long school superintendent searches generally take, Jones said, "You'll be really lucky to have the position filled by October."

Davis said the Chesterfield school board's past searches for executive talent took four to five months.

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