By Nicholas von Wettberg
Faced with the ever-challenging task of ensuring student success by means of an underfunded state education system, perhaps last on the list of needs for the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) Board of Education, heading into the New Year, was for a new superintendent.
But, as we know, career paths can change in an instant, and late last month DJUSD Superintendent Winfred Roberson abruptly informed the board that he had been chosen as a finalist, for the same position, by the Glendale Unified School District.
Fast forward to nearly one month later, and, as a result of the upcoming vacancy, the Board now embarks on a search process that will involve the professional services of an outside firm.
During its meeting Thursday at the Community Chambers, the DJUSD School Board reviewed a projected timeline for the selection process, and, true to plan, President Madhavi Sunder announced the formal resignation of Mr. Roberson.
“Late Tuesday evening, the Glendale Unified School District made a formal offer for the position of Superintendent to Superintendent Winfred Roberson,” Sunder said to those in attendance, which included Roberson. “Yesterday, Superintendent Roberson gave our Board official notice of his resignation.”
Sunder added: “Tonight, during closed session by unanimous vote, the Board took action to accept Superintendent Roberson’s notice of termination of contract and agreed to release him by March 31 from his contract, as permitted under his contract, so that Winfred can become the Glendale Superintendent effective April 1.”
Colleague and friends alike
Calling the outcome “bittersweet,” and adding that “we will be sad to see Winfred go,” Sunder credited the Superintendent for his unwavering stewardship during difficult times (he began his tenure in 2010), and his dedication to the needs and care of the district’s 8,600 students.
According to Sunder’s statement, not only was Roberson an effective leader with innovative approaches and an understanding of the complexities of the state’s education system, he also was an active parent, and an approachable community member.
“He became a well-loved and respected member of our community,” said Sunder. “He raised his kids here in the Davis schools. He sang with us. Our Board has found an able leader and partner in Winfred, who helped us to increase counseling in elementary schools, guided us on our strategic plan and LCAP and created a clear pathway to implementing later start at our secondary schools.”
Achievements aside, the general consensus is that, under the five-year watch of Superintendent Roberson, the DJUSD grew on the whole, and, just as importantly, the district and its stakeholders were provided with a prototype from which to work.
An interim Superintendent is scheduled for appointment in early March, with a target date of April 1 to fill the office, leaving ample time for a grooming process. The search will culminate on July 1, with the posting of a permanent Superintendent.
One of the major decisions the Board made during the evening, aside from the official announcement of the immediate vacancy (at the urging of Roberson), was the approval of a motion to form an ad-hoc committee, which will assist in choosing the search firm included in the selection of the district’s next Superintendent.
The ad-hoc committee will consist of Sunder and trustee Alan Fernandes.
Reading the projected timeline of events, Friday kicks things off with the ad-hoc committee’s opening meeting, where its first order of business is developing a request for proposal (RFP), which will be sent out to a selected list of applicants, and posted on the district’s website, by Friday, February 25.
“What the goal would be is to get some RFPs out, and get the firm selected so they would be able to come here for a special Board meeting, either March 8 or 9, to come in and for you to have the Board interviews and make the selection at that time, or at the next meeting after that,” said Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby, who, along with Superintendent Roberson, presented the district’s recommendations. “And then, basically, in the middle of March, starting before spring break, the Board can actually start working with a firm…”
There are six firms already listed as potential candidates, and, while trustee Susan Lovenburg did show concern over the number, citing that “we are already behind the curve” and “we need to accelerate as quickly as possible,” what got her initial attention was whether there would be some sort of criteria established, in terms of outreach.
“The community is really the search process,” Lovenburg said. “That once you’ve engaged the firm, that’s the process, they help us navigate, so is there some high-level criteria?”
Colby said questions about criteria, concerning things like community involvement and open or closed searches, are part of the search process, however, are treated more like “background information.”
“You just want to tell them, ‘put this in the report and be prepared to talk about it when you come to the Board,’” Colby said.
Quality over quantity
Lovenburg pointed out that, as much as there’s a need for expediency, perhaps they should be narrowing down the list of firms to two or three, as it had been nine years since the district’s last full-fledged Superintendent search.
“I’ve never been through the RFP process and I experienced it as a community member and parent when James Hammond was hired, but I wasn’t here (on the Board) at that time, so it’s new to me as well,” Lovenburg said. “And I think it’s time for that full-on search, and there’s some very strong, internal candidates, but I think it’s time to really open up that process and really look at all the potential candidates.”
Board Vice President/Clerk Barbara Archer said she was in favor of using a firm, but would like to see an “open and organized” vetting process in its search.
“I think we need to do our due diligence as a Board, but I want to at least have some open discussion about that piece of it,” Archer said, in regard to there being some worthy in-house candidates. “I’d love to hear from my colleagues on that point in open session.”
Archer said she was not prepared to narrow down the list of search firms, as trustee Lovenburg had suggested earlier.
“The information provided about each firm was good, but I don’t know if it’s deep enough to narrow them down from six to three – I think that would be the work for the ad-hoc committee,” said Archer. “The one thing I would have to offer is that we have such an engaged community in Davis…that the community involvement piece would need to be significant, because after all, this is our Davis way.”
In the meeting’s closing, Board President Sunder explained that those included in the search process have a lot of work in front of them “to make this a smooth and effective transition.”
“We recognize it is no small feat to be the leader of Davis schools and it is going to take resources, time and dedication of our Board to make sure we get this right.”
The Board is available to the public through email (BOE@djusd.net). Any comments, questions, or “specific input” about the Superintendent search process can be directed to a designated website through the email address: SuperintendentSearch@djusd.net.