Clark-Pleasant’s superintendent search will be one of the first priorities for the candidates elected to the school board.
The five candidates running for school board — E. Curtis Harris, Duane “Tom” Hogue, James Klenner, Vernon “Butch” Zike and Howard Young — all said the school district needs to find a new leader for the school district as quickly as possible.
They responded to questions during a candidate forum this week sponsored by the Clark-Pleasant Education Association. The education association represents Clark-Pleasant’s teachers and conducted similar forums before previous school board elections.
On Tuesday, Clark-Pleasant voters will chose among Hogue, Klenner, Young or Zike for one at-large seat. Harris is running unopposed for the Pleasant Township seat.
For the first time, the new Clark-Pleasant school board members will take office in January, meaning they’ll be on the board in time to help pick a superintendent. Previously, Clark-Pleasant was the only school board in the county where newly elected school board members waited until July to take office. But a recent change in state law requires new members to begin serving in January, Indiana School Board Association spokesman Michael Adamson said.
The school board candidates said they’ll pick a superintendent who, through previous jobs, has demonstrated strong leadership skills, honesty and an ability to work well with teachers, students and parents.
Most of the candidates said they wanted to find a permanent principal for Whiteland Community High School as well, although Zike said that person should be selected by the new superintendent, who works closely with all principals.
The current timeline calls for the superintendent to be hired in May.
Most of the questions from teachers asked candidates about their priorities for Clark-Pleasant and the newly created project-based courses at the high school. But parents also asked about transparency during board meetings and how the board works with the teachers union.
The candidates were asked how they would better discuss personnel matters during public board meetings while also respecting privacy and Indiana law.
Nearly all of the candidates said they wanted to ensure the board was being open with the public about personnel issues. Harris said board meetings where personnel issues weren’t clearly and openly discussed were part of what prompted him to file to fill a vacant school board seat last year.
Zike said that, in the past, the board’s consent agenda might have been used to slip items through that members didn’t want to talk about.
But while it’s important for the board to be transparent with the public, the board also has to respect employees’ privacy, or it could be legally liable, Zike, Harris and Young said.
Klenner said personnel changes such as transfers or promotions don’t necessarily need to be specified during board meetings.
But he added the board should consider providing additional details, within the law, when someone is fired so that everyone is clear on what happened.
Hogue agreed, adding that hiring for positions such as principals, coaches or counselors needs to be publicized so the public knows who is working within the schools.
The parents also wanted to know how the board would work with the school district’s teachers on their contract, now that Indiana law restricts what can be discussed during negotiations.
The candidates all said that they wanted to be able to continue their long history of working well with Clark-Pleasant’s teachers.
“As long as it’s legal, we can talk about it,” Harris said.
Hogue and Klenner also said the board could consider speaking with teachers.
The teachers asked the candidates how they felt about the new project-driven courses that were started at the high school this year and whether they wanted them to continue.
Harris and Young said it was too soon to know whether the courses, which combine subjects such as computer applications and biology and physical education and health, are working.
Zike said that Whiteland’s teachers have the skills necessary to use them to make students stronger learners and that the new courses develop skills students will need, including teamwork.
“I think we have an obligation to make sure that teaching strategy is a part of our corporation,” Zike said.
But all three said if the new courses aren’t helping or hurt students, then they need to be replaced.
Klenner said that other schools he’s researched haven’t had success with similar courses.
He and Hogue said that while the courses can be useful, they shouldn’t be required or used for core classes such as math or science.