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School board chooses a candidate search firm at a recent meeting

As the Newberg School District approaches the halfway point of its school year, the board has come to a decision regarding its search for a permanent superintendent. Joe Morelock is serving in an interim capacity through the end of the school year, replacing former superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza, who returned to her native Colorado in June.

At its Nov. 5 meeting, the board approved hiring a search team that includes the Oregon School Boards Association and NextUp Leadership, for an estimated cost of $18,500. The cost, according to the board, includes a base price of $12,500, plus $6,000 in "consultant and candidate reimbursement."

The team will, among other duties, help form a screening committee, advertise the position, actively recruit candidates and assist the district in interviews. Given the limited resources and budget of the district, hiring a search firm was seen by the board as the best option moving forward.

"That's a process that (the board) set out to do when they hired the interim position," Morelock said. "They approved to hire a search firm to do that, and they will move forward."

A point of discussion during the Nov. 5 meeting was the job Morelock had done so far, and the idea of directly appointing him to the position on a permanent basis. Morelock wouldn't comment on his interest in the job, but at the meeting some of his colleagues on the board expressed their support.

"Why are we wanting to continue the search when we are getting feedback that people are happy with Joe?" director Rebecca Piros asked. "Also, if we choose to hire this company, I'm wondering if it has to be a nationwide search."

Board chairman Bob Woodruff said he's heard support from the community about directly appointing Morelock, while other board members said it would be unfair to Morelock and the community to make such a decision after only a few months.

The support for Morelock among the board appeared unanimous based on their comments, but the motion to hire the search firm passed 6-0. Morelock said he was encouraged by the board to apply for the position and was characterized as "one of the top candidates" by director Mindy Allison.

"I took the position knowing it was an interim position," Morelock said. "Newberg is a superb place and there are great people here."

The district had a choice between two different search firms and it chose the OSBA/NextUp team based on the price and scope of the potential effort. Human Capital Enterprises quoted a price of roughly $27,000 and members noted the size of NextUp's staff as an important asset for the upcoming search process.

NextUp/OSBA proposed two different search calendars for the position, with the permanent superintendent slated to start in July. Whichever way the district decides to go, it will announce the hire in March.

The process is essentially the same regardless of which calendar option the board approves. With the administrative help of the firm, the district will drum up its best candidates, hold a meeting to decide which candidates advance to the interview stage, conduct the interviews, introduce candidates to the community and come to an eventual decision.

Input of community leaders and the general public will be taken at a special board meeting, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 3. Everything the board learns from that meeting, along with the research conducted by OSBA/NextUp and its own interview process, will determine who leads the school district into the future. Whether that is Morelock or an outside candidate remains to be seen.

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