WCSD Board Of Trustees President: 'Kristen Can Do That Job'
Later this month, the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees is expected to name Kristen McNeill the permanent superintendent. The decision comes after the board abruptly ended a monthlong national search amid the COVID-19 pandemic. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Board of Trustees President Malena Raymond about the decision and what the district is doing to get community feedback before McNeill’s appointment.
Boger: President Raymond, thank you so much for joining me. I want to get your take on the board's decision to end its search for a new superintendent.
Raymond: There were a couple of factors that came into the conversation. One being that we had a pretty defined schedule to adhere to with interviews. Our top five candidates were selected. They were scheduled to fly into Reno beginning next week for interviews. So four of the five would have been from out of state and come here to do in-person interviews. Following that, we had scheduled a large townhall-style meeting for the community to come and meet those finalists and learn more about them. So we knew that wasn't going to be possible in this current COVID-19 pandemic, to have large gatherings and to have individuals fly here. And we talked a bit about the alternatives for virtual interviews. Staff presented to us what some of the other districts in the nation are doing that are in similar situations. And we did talk a little bit about what our options were. I think really what came into play for us though was our confidence as a board in the leadership of our current interim superintendent, Dr. Kristen McNeill.
Boger: So when did you personally know that Kristen McNeill was the right person to lead the district?
Raymond: It's been a growth process for me, personally, in getting to know her and seeing her leadership style. From day one I saw her as a competitor for the position. Not just because of her previous positions within our district, beginning as a teacher and on up through being a principal, but because I saw early on when she took on the role of interim, the way that she was reaching out to staff to help with some of the morale issues that we've had. The way that she was immediately eager to get out and meet with community stakeholders and find out what they see as concerns for the district. It just built and built the confidence, especially that I had in her.
As the board president, we've worked very closely in the last two weeks through the COVID-19 crisis. And I think any organization would be in extremely good hands to have a leader like Kristen right now. She has just gone above and beyond to make sure that not only that we're feeding our kids, but that we have distance learning plans. She's not doing that alone, but it is her ability to energize and lead our entire staff at this time. That has really impressed me.
Boger: I have to say that the timing of this is interesting. The board made this decision on its first online meeting where public comment was accepted but was not read aloud. The district has a history of forsaking input from stakeholders on important decisions. Case in point, the hiring of the previous superintendent, Tracy Davis. So my question is, how were you making sure that this isn't history repeating itself?
Raymond: I absolutely recognize, I think we all do as a board, the history of our district. I would say one difference currently that I see for us is that we have had the opportunity for Dr. McNeill to be in this position for, again, close to nine months. We have had the privilege of having a consulting firm do a lot of work in the community to hear from stakeholders, to hear from staff and families about what they're looking for, and to kind of go through that process of creating a description of an ideal superintendent candidate for the school district. We've had the opportunity to review initially eight candidates, which we narrowed down to five candidates, one of which was Dr. McNeill. So it's not the same situation as it has been in the past, where we had an immediate transition from a superintendent that left, to a short period with an interim, to another, to naming that person as a permanent. We have gone through stages of a search. We are just not completing the search.
Boger: So what is the district doing to reach out to get input from the community?
Raymond: So we had a page built into the WashoeSchools.net website, with an email link to submit any public comment from any community member about this. So that will be open and available to the public to submit comments all the way up through our conversation during the board meeting on [April] 28. Those comments go to an address that’s shared with the board of trustees so that we can all review those comments. I know that our communication staff is already working on a virtual type of forum, where the public will be able to submit questions and be able to ask specific questions about what her leadership style might be. It won't be a formal interview, but it'll be an opportunity to learn more about her and the vision for the district that she has. It will also give her just an opportunity to kind of introduce herself to the community for those who haven't gotten a chance to know her. Of course on the day of our meeting, there will be more opportunities for the public comment, but I think we'll be continuing to look for other ways. I think we're going to be taking advantage of social media. I know there's plans to do some Facebook live forums for conversation around this. We’re still creating some of that plan and that's another reason why giving ourselves a month to work on this with our staff was important.
Boger: President Raymond, at the end of the day, what do you want the community to know about this particular decision?
Raymond: We are in this unprecedented situation of dealing with the global pandemic and we need the stability for our staff of having a leader in place that they know is going to be there for a long period. That is important because we're building up a distance learning program from scratch. We're looking at significant cuts to funding coming our way due to the economic crisis. I think it is important for not only our staff, but our community, to know that the person in place as superintendent of Washoe County School District has the history of knowing how we got to where we are today, but also the vision for where we can go from here under those circumstances. It is very clear to us that Kristen can do that job.