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District lists vacancy, solicits feedback from stakeholders on what qualities it should prioritze in its next leader

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Kym LeBlanc-Esparza announced in March she would leave her position as superintendent of the Newberg School District and return to her native Colorado.

The Newberg School District board of directors initiated a process to name a new superintendent last week, officially listing the vacancy and reaching out to parents, students, staff and community members to learn what qualities and qualifications the district's next leader should possess.

Kym LeBlanc-Esparza officially tendered her resignation, effective June 30, at the March 20 board meeting, but in order take action on finding a replacement, the board held a special meeting April 2 to officially list the position as vacant.

Although all seven board members expressed a strong preference for a one-year interim position at the March 20 meeting, the board decided at the special meeting to leave the option of a permanent hire open until its regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday night (after press time for this story).

The district then distributed a survey via email to students, staff, parents and community members on April 3. The survey, which closed Tuesday morning, asked stakeholders to rank several qualities and qualifications, but also allowed them to list three additional qualifications of their choice.

The board then held a work session Thursday, running through the list of qualities included on the survey in a series of exercises facilitated by retired communications director Claudia Stewart before closing with some discussion.

The exercises, which were then used at a public meeting for parents, staff and community members Monday night, essentially involved going through the same ranking process.

The qualities for the survey and exercises had been selected by the board's personnel committee from a list of about 60 provided by the Oregon School Board Association. Some participants, including parents and board members, found it difficult to rank them because many seemed to overlap with each other. Some were also frustrated by the lack of options available by category, especially in terms of the online survey.

As of Monday evening, about 270 people had taken the online survey, while about 20 parents, many of whom were also teachers, district staff, building principals and even staff from Providence Newberg Medical Center took part at the Monday meeting. The survey closed Tuesday morning so that a report could be prepared for board members ahead of their discussion at the board meeting later that evening.

Both the school board group and the stakeholders gathered Monday collectively ranked "builds a culture of openness, trust and respect with students staff and community members; values transparency" as the most important characteristic or qualification.

While the ranking exercise may have proven frustrating at times, both groups were given the opportunity to add and discuss any additional qualities they thought were important.

Parents like A.J. Schwanz and Deena Myers thought it was helpful not only to have building principals and district staff from various levels participate and share their ideas for qualifications on Monday night, but also staff from PNMC.

"I think this is what people want all the time," Schwanz said. "It was nice to dialogue about hard stuff with something that's a little more representative of Newberg."

Monday's meeting was also informative for board members, several of whom sat in with one of the small groups of stakeholders for the entire meeting, mostly to listen to the discussions and answer questions, while others moved around the room.

"It was very helpful because I heard a different perspective than some of the parents and teachers that have emailed the board," board member Debbie Hawblitzel said. "Some of them had an axe to grind. Some of them were able discuss those but also focus on the task at hand. It was a very good civil discourse and was productive."

Having board members actively listening also seemed to be more satisfying for the stakeholders, like parent and teacher Kim McDonough, because it felt like a more effective way to communicate and actually be heard than the online survey or participating in the ranking exercises.

"I'm hopeful that the board listened and that we have a strong response," McDonough said.

Board member Melinda Van Bossuyt also explained Monday night that the board, at the then yet-to-come regular meeting Tuesday night, was set to discuss and vote on a final list of qualifications, as well as the process it will take select the next superintendent, but that nothing had been fully discussed or decided as of Monday night.

Participants were also able to submit feedback on other topics not directly related to qualifications of the next superintendent, with some expressing that the district should open the interim position to outside candidates and not simply appoint from within.

Based on the most recent discussions, the board appears to be leaning in that direction and Van Bossuyt indicated any posting of the job would likely be open for a limited amount of time so that the board could move quickly.

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