2018-06-20 / Government & Schools / Front Page

The hunt to find another James Lane

Board begins search for superintendent

School Board members are emphasizing continuity as they begin the search for Chesterfield County’s next schools superintendent, saying they’re looking for someone with the same leadership traits and qualities as the recently departed James Lane.After a four-month search, James Lane was introduced as schools superintendent in March of 2016. His replacement is expected to be named by the start of the 2018-19 school year. Photo by Ash DanielAfter a four-month search, James Lane was introduced as schools superintendent in March of 2016. His replacement is expected to be named by the start of the 2018-19 school year. Photo by Ash Daniel

The executive search firm that helped the board find Lane won’t be part of recruiting his successor, however.

School Board Chairman John Erbach noted last week that board members met earlier this month with officials from Illinois-based BWP & Associates to discuss the parameters of a new superintendent search.

“At this time, our School Board does not believe BWP & Associates would be an appropriate search firm to use, given the type of targeted national search we are seeking and the time frame under which we will operate,” he said. According to Erbach, the School Board is “working through the procurement process to identify between one and three consultants – former superintendents with national profiles and national connections,” to lead the current recruitment.

The county’s Purchasing Department issued an informal request for proposals June 8 from contractors interested in providing the School Board with executive search consultant services. The solicitation period closed June 15.

The School Board expects to finalize agreements with selected consultants by the end of this week and begin conducting interviews in July, Erbach said, with the goal of having a new superintendent in place by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Kevin Castner, one of the two consultants who led Chesterfield’s 2016 superintendent search, confirmed via email Friday that representatives of BWP & Associates met privately with the School Board on June 4.

“Since it was a closed session, it’s not appropriate for us to comment further,” he wrote.

BWP & Associates is being bypassed despite a clause in its contract that requires the company to conduct another search at no charge (other than to cover its expenses) if the School Board’s chosen candidate resigns or is dismissed for cause after less than two years on the job.

That’s what happened when Lane, whose tenure as Chesterfield’s superintendent began July 1, 2016, stepped down May 30 to accept an appointment as state superintendent of public instruction.

Asked why the School Board decided not to execute the “quality assurance” clause in BWP & Associates’ contract – and potentially save thousands of dollars – Erbach said the board concluded that the extensive “front-end work” performed during the 2016 search isn’t necessary this time. “We feel that one or more focused consultants will better position the board to reach a more targeted audience of candidates with national profiles in a short period of time,” he added. “During the next two months, these individuals will be identifying and recruiting various candidates with skill sets that match the already identified characteristics from two years ago.”

The Chesterfield school system paid BWP & Associates more than $32,000 to conduct a national search for a successor to Marcus Newsome, who resigned in June 2016 after 10 years as superintendent.

The company’s consultants held community meetings in each of Chesterfield’s five magisterial districts, giving citizens opportunities to weigh in on the next superintendent’s preferred skills, experience and characteristics. They also met with leaders of the local business and faith communities and created an online survey that received more than 2,000 responses.

From that feedback, the consultants created a “leadership profile” which they presented to the School Board and used to compile a list of top candidates.

The board selected Lane, then superintendent in Goochland County, and gave him a four-year contract worth $221,000 annually.

In less than two years as superintendent, Lane brought a number of changes to the Chesterfield school system – including adjustments to school start times that will take effect in September, a move to year-round schooling at Bellwood Elementary, an early college academy program and the establishment of a committee to address inequality in county schools.

Last month, the 40-year-old Lane became the third Chesterfield superintendent to be appointed state superintendent for public instruction, following Bill Bosher and Billy Cannaday.

Donald “Rusty” Fairheart, who served as Lane’s chief of staff, was named interim superintendent by the School Board on June 1.

“So many people in the community have asked, with our superintendent having left, how things are going,” said Carrie Coyner, the Bermuda District’s School Board member, during last week’s meeting. “I think it has been a really seamless transition. It has been business as usual and that starts with a team approach. When one person is gone, the rest of the team picks up and keeps moving.”

Javaid Siddiqi, who represents the Midlothian District on the School Board, praised Fairheart’s “humility, grace and poise” and said he “could not think of a better person” than Fairheart to lead the school system following Lane’s departure.

It’s not yet known whether the School Board considers Fairheart a candidate to fill the superintendent vacancy on a permanent basis.

Fairheart doesn’t have a doctoral degree. He does hold a master’s in business administration degree from Old Dominion University, though, and has taken coursework toward a doctorate in educational policy and leadership from Virginia Tech.

Fairheart also has prior experience as a school superintendent, having served in that position in Middlesex County from 2007 to 2011.

“Serving as chief of staff has allowed me to work closely with the School Board, and I am keenly aware of the expectations our community has for this school division,” he said after being named interim superintendent last month.

Based on Erbach’s remarks last week, the School Board isn’t looking to dramatically change course when it selects its next top administrator.

“Two years ago, this board engaged the community as we developed the leadership traits and qualities that we wanted in the next school superintendent. We do not believe those traits and characteristics have changed. They continue to be applicable today,” he said.

“We already are viewed as a leader in education in Virginia and across our great country. We’re on the cusp of being a world-class school division. We’re excited about the opportunity to select a leader who will help us reach that level of excellence.” ¦

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