Lawrence school district gets 28 applicants to superintendent position, will announce finalists next week

Lawrence Public Schools (Shutterstock photo)

The number of applicants to the Lawrence school district’s superintendent position was more than the district’s search firm typically receives in the state.

Last month, consultants with McPherson & Jacobson LLC, the national firm assisting the district in its superintendent search, said the firm usually gets 15 to 20 applicants to open positions in Kansas. Twenty-eight applications were received for the Lawrence superintendent position, said school board President Vanessa Sanburn.

Sanburn said there isn’t yet a determination of how many of those applicants are qualified for the position.

Consultants with the search firm, which is based in Omaha, Neb., previously said that they noted a decrease in the amount of applications to Kansas superintendent positions about five years ago. The 15-20 applications typically received in Kansas is lower than their national average, which is 25 to 35 applications, according to the firm’s owner and CEO, Tom Jacobson.

Since 2011, more than 160 Kansas superintendents have resigned or retired, according to information provided to the Journal-World by the Kansas School Superintendents’ Association. That means that of the 286 school districts in Kansas, more than half have seen turnover in the superintendent position in the past five years.

Current Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll, 61, announced in November that he would resign his position at the end of the school year. Doll has accepted a full-time position as associate professor and executive director of the Kansas Educational Leadership Institute at Kansas State University.

Doll has said a desire to return to teaching, the lack of financial and moral support of public schools in the Kansas Legislature, and changes to KPERS early retirement rules — Doll is a “working retiree” — were all contributing factors in his choice to resign.

Sanburn and board Vice President Marcel Harmon will review all the applications ahead of a special meeting on Monday. Sanburn said that in addition to the basic qualifications, they will pay particular attention to the candidates’ response to a question about school equity, which has been a focus of work in the district for several years.

“I think because that is such a unique area that our district is working in, it will be interesting to see how the applicant pool answered the question,” Sanburn said.

The board submitted five candidate characteristics to the firm in January, which consultants then used to formulate the applicant questionnaire. Board members indicated they wanted a candidate who would “embrace the district’s goal of raising the achievement of all students, while closing achievement gaps through continued racial equity programming.”

All members of the board will review the applicants at the special executive session on Monday, which is closed to the public. Consultants with the search firm will provide their top 10 candidates, and board members and consultants will then select six semifinalists and finalize the list of interview questions. The semifinalists will not be made public, Sanburn said.

Semifinalist candidates will be interviewed Thursday and Friday, and Sanburn said the board would likely announce two or three finalists Friday evening.

On March 7 and 8, the finalists will meet with focus groups of district staff, community members and students whom the board selected, as well as take part in final interviews with the board. The board will announce its final decision by March 11, Sanburn said.