Last summer, Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson announced that she would retire from her post in June 2020, after 17 years in the district’s top spot. The search for her replacement is moving forward.
The Fort Wayne Community Schools board launched a national search to hire Robinson’s successor, who will lead the largest traditional public school district in the state. The board hired a Chicago-based search firm – Hazard Young Attea & Associates – to meet with focus groups, conduct surveys, and present the board with a list of candidates to choose for interviews.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, closing schools and businesses throughout Indiana, and forcing the school board to improvise. Board President Julia Hollingsworth says the board will do everything it can to keep the search on track, and bring the new superintendent on board in time for Robinson’s scheduled retirement on June 30.
“As of right now, we are still maintaining our same schedule. We have had to adjust, of course. (In early April), we completed our first set of interviews with six people. Of course, those were Zoom interviews. People got dressed up. Board members tried to look their best. For a lot of us - me, for example - this was something I had never done before.”
After the interviews and considerable discussion, on April 9, the board selected three finalists for intensive interviews in late April, with the final selection planned for early May.
“In a different situation, those candidates would be invited to Fort Wayne, would be shown around the city, would probably have dinner with the board and the candidate and spouse or partner in an informal setting, then we would have a formal interview. We discussed whether we would want to wait until we’re not on lockdown, but it’s so uncertain. How do we know when that’s going to be? We just felt there was so much uncertainty, that we decided to do the finalist interviews also virtually. It’s not the best, not the way we would prefer to do it, but we kind of feel some sense of urgency to stay on track with the process.”
Hollingsworth says state law requires the school board to publish the chosen candidate’s negotiated contract, and conduct a public hearing on the contract before voting to approve it at a public meeting, all within a prescribed time frame.
She says the board has a contingency plan if the new superintendent is unable to take over the new job before Robinson’s scheduled departure.
“I have spoken with Dr. Robinson about the possibility of staying on beyond June 30 just to transition. It’s a bonus for us, and it’s a bonus for the person we would hire, just because there is so much uncertainty about what’s gonna happen.”
The board is making every effort to adapt to the changes in the process, as well as the pending change in leadership.
“The way that we’re currently operating is definitely not how we would like to do that, but we’re all just faced with a different set of circumstances. I think we just have to deal with that as best we can, because the board just feels it’s important to get a new leader in place in a timely manner.”