They were first in line ahead of the district’s support staff, the teachers, the professional staff, before the administrators and the supervisors, before members of the community and ahead of the board of trustees.
Tuesday afternoon in the high school library, 10 students, chosen as class leaders, met with consultants Craig Stockstill and Marian Strauss to voice their opinions, complaints and suggestions about the qualifications for a superintendent.
“We find the kids are usually right on target,” Strauss explained after the session.
PISD has been led by an interim superintendent since the board summarily forced Brian Thompson to resign last February. On March 24, the board approved spending $8,000 to hire the TASB executive search services to find a new superintendent.
Seeking student opinions when conducting the search is TASB policy. The PISD students did not disappoint.
Their comments ranged from demonstrating the need for improved facilities (“you can see the mold and water damage there on the wall,” one pointed out) to asking for more and higher technology.
Another asked for more extra-curricular activities, while admitting that a smaller school district is limited in what it can offer.
In outlining qualifications, the students stressed the need for the candidates to exhibit integrity and honesty, to be trustworthy, to have a working knowledge of budgets, to be adaptable, to have been raised in a rural community and who will have children attending the district they are supervising.
“We need to have someone who will stay around for a while,” a student said. “We need someone who will be a role model, all the way from high school to pre-k.”
“We don’t want anyone with a criminal record,” added one.
“And,” said another, “we want someone we can joke around with.”
High school principal, Brent Niemeier — “this is the first time I have undergone a superintendent search” — chose the 10 students from a high school class of nearly 140, making sure all grade levels were represented.
Last week, he met with all 10 in the same library.
“I’ve taught some or all of them,” he said. “What I was seeking was students with maturity.”
After the 30-minute session, Stockstill and Strauss told the students they were impressed with the maturity of their comments.
“You didn’t just talk about the food in the cafeteria,” Stockstill said.
Students can still voice their own concerns on the district’s website.
Both consultants are former superintendents, in order, Stockstill from Floresville and Marion districts; Strauss from Longview and Wimberly.
Strauss said one of the reasons for compiling opinions from everyone is by later perusing them, TASB can discover repeating issues.
“There will be subtle issues you will find throughout. Well,” she paused, “here they may not be so subtle.”
The board and community were split over the issue of Thompson’s firing. Those in favor maintain the action was justified; those against it repeatedly asked the board for answers about its motivation, and being repeatedly told that such decisions occurred in executive session, therefore were confidential.
The issue became so contentious that a community meeting was conducted to gather public comment. When the board met to force Thompson to resign, it met in the school cafeteria to accommodate the crowd.
Strauss and Stockstill hope their efforts will help assure the candidates TASB recommends will be cognizant of the bruised nerves here.
“Compiling the answers from all the groups helps us to understand the culture of the community and the district,” Strauss said. Stockstill added, “It’s like being an old time marriage broker.”