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ROGERS -- The Rogers School Board is embarking on its first superintendent search in 17 years.

Superintendent Janie Darr announced last week her intention to retire June 30. Darr, who started with the district as an English teacher in 1968, has been superintendent since 1999.

The Rogers district -- which has about 15,077 students -- is the fifth-largest public school district in the state, following Little Rock, Springdale, Pulaski County Special and Bentonville.

The Rogers School Board will have a special meeting Jan. 4 to hear presentations from at least three recruiting firms that specialize in finding school superintendents. It is possible the board also will decide at that meeting to hire one of those firms. Each will get about 15 minutes to make a pitch to the board.

In the meantime, Rogers will advertise the job opening using resources that are free to the School District. The board also appointed its president, Kristen Cobbs, to put together a tentative timeline for the selection process.

Cobbs said that the board wanted to move swiftly.

"We know we need to strike while the iron is hot and get on board, because six or seven months may seem like a long time, but maybe not with this kind of search," Cobbs said.

The search will be a national one, she said.

"We will leave no stone unturned," Cobbs said. "Whatever is the best fit for the Rogers School District is what we will do."

Board Vice President Lisa Anderson said there is a window of time in the winter and early spring in which potential job candidates are deciding where they're going to work the next school year, and the board must be mindful of that.

"If it comes down to it, we can always ask someone to serve as an interim [superintendent]," Anderson said. "It's OK to say we need more time."

The board also kept open the possibility of conducting the search on its own and going without outside help. Anderson served on the board at Northwest Arkansas Community College when it went through a search for a president in 2003. That search ended with the selection of Becky Paneitz and was done without a firm's help, she said.

Cobbs said board members have attended training sessions related to doing a superintendent search so they'd be prepared when Darr stepped down.

There are many firms across the nation that specialize in executive searches. Jake Haak, the district's chief financial officer, said he was able to do some research on executive search firms. McPherson and Jacobson, based in Omaha, Neb., would do the job for $17,900, he said.

The district can afford that kind of expenditure, thanks in part to lower-than-expected gas prices and unbudgeted revenue from interest income, Haak said.

Board member Paige Sultemeier expressed a desire to get a search firm's help for what she called a "daunting" task.

"I think that kind of money is pretty small within the course of our budget, and we want to make sure we've got the right person," Sultemeier said.

The district has a three-page job description for the superintendent, but board member Amy Horn said the right candidate will be someone who is capable of more than just what the job description entails.

"They may be able to do all the objectives, but do they have the quality of leadership the district is used to," Horn said. "I think that's key to filling this position. A lot of people can do the job, but can they be the kind of leader Dr. Darr is?"

Cobbs suggested the board members come up with a list of characteristics they'd like their next superintendent to possess.

The board's discussion also touched on how much weight should be given to candidates from Arkansas.

"I think there's some merit to someone who is familiar with Arkansas," Anderson said. "But I don't think not working in Arkansas today is a deal-breaker."

The district has numerous good administrators who are well aware of state laws pertaining to education and could help a newcomer in that regard, said Sterling Wilson, board member.

Wilson also proposed soliciting input from district employees on the characteristics they'd like to see in their next leader.

Information for this article was contributed by Aziza Musa of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 12/23/2015

Print Headline: Search in works for Rogers school chief

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