School board members (from left) Eric VanCise, Elias Erickson, Amy Morrison, and Paul Rioux participate in an assembly work session earlier this year. The four had conflicting opinions about who should be allowed to apply for the one-year position of interim school superintendent, and how quickly the applicant should be selected. They’ve decided to open the process to public input through a survey. Outgoing superintendent Mary Wegner is seated in the rear. (KCAW file photo)

Note: The Sitka Superintendent Search Survey is open until March 26.

The search for an interim superintendent for the Sitka School District has been extended a week, to allow for more public participation.

The Sitka School Board met in special session on Monday evening (3-16-20), to select an interim from the four people who had submitted letters of interest by the close of business on Friday, March 13.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, the board opted to push back the decision until March 26, so that the public can participate in an online survey, and share views on what sort of person is needed to run the district for a year.

Some members felt that board chair Elias Erickson was putting the selection process into motion too quickly, following Dr. Mary Wegner’s resignation announcement on March 4.

At that meeting, three of them, Amy Morrison, Paul Rioux, and Eric VanCise opposed Erickson’s desire to keep the candidate pool within the district’s existing administrators, and voted to open the process to anyone holding the proper Type B certificate.

VanCise said that they were made to feel like “rogue board members” for having a different view on the matter than Erickson, who was following the recommendations of the Alaska Association of School Boards.

Monday night, Amy Morrison said she appreciated Erickson’s willingness to slow the pace, and she was ready to move on.

 “But it is really hard after that meeting to not feel a little defensive, and feel like I have to justify my actions,” Morrison said. “And I do also want to say that I think it’s water under the bridge, let’s move forward, let’s make good decisions from here on out.”

Some district staff were also unhappy with the rapid pace of the interim selection process. Sitka Education Association representative (and CTE teacher) Tim Pike said past superintendent hires — even interim hires — had always involved community stakeholders.

“Then you will have the voice of the community, in terms of which superintendent candidate they would like to see,” Pike said. “I think the biggest reason for that is the one you spoke to earlier: Our students. They need the best quality person every year. Because they don’t get a do-over.”

Pike also argued that the names of the four applicants should be released to the public. He said that the reason Sitka has had long-term superintendents is “because we’ve chosen good ones.”

Board chair Erickson, however, didn’t believe that there was sufficient time to have a committee process for an interim, when it was important for the board to stay focused on its goals for the district — and to  begin the lengthy search for a permanent superintendent to replace Wegner.

He proposed offering staff and the public an online survey created by the Association of Alaska School Boards for just this purpose.

“Community input is really important to this process, and I’ve never rejected that idea whatsoever,” said Erickson. “It’s about finding the right way to take that in, in a way that is consistent with our policies, and in a way that is fair to everybody.”

The survey will be open on the Sitka School District website until Thursday, March 26. The AASB will tabulate survey results, and present them to the board in a special meeting later that evening, when an interim superintendent will likely be chosen from among the four candidates who have expressed interest.