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Superintendent spot focus for Clark-Pleasant: Board candidates have leadership hire, spending, test scores in crosshairs

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Clark-Pleasant is looking for a new superintendent, and school board candidates hope to find the right person for the job.

Candidates running for an at-large seat on the board ranked picking a new superintendent as one of the most important decisions they’d have to make. They said they hope that the newly elected board member will get to have input, and that a new superintendent will take over by the start of the next school year.

The four candidates also had other goals, including increasing transparency, raising test scores and taking another look at the high school grading scale. They also want to limit spending due to shortfalls school districts are facing with property tax caps, such as by making sure the district pays as little interest as possible on debt.

E. Curtis Harris is running unopposed for re-election to the Pleasant Township seat on the Clark-Pleasant school board. Duane “Tom” Hogue, James W. Klenner, Howard L. Young and Vernon S. “Butch” Zike are running for one at-large seat.

Young, a current board member who has been on the board for 34 years, said school board members should put students first in all decisions. He said Clark-Pleasant also should keep the tax rate as level as possible and be efficient while educating a growing number of students.

Klenner, a biological safety manager at IUPUI, said he’s running because he has children in Clark-Pleasant schools. He said he’d work to bring more transparency to the board, revisit the curriculum and look at making the grading scale uniform and comparable to other schools so that Whiteland Community High School students wouldn’t be at a disadvantage in their college applications.

Hogue, a retired high school teacher, said the school district’s biggest issue is finances and that he would look at reducing administrative expenses and privatizing maintenance if possible. He said he’d also try to bulk up vocational training for students who aren’t college-bound and make sure the board listens to the public and explains any decision that goes against what residents say they want at board meetings.

Zike, who retired as Clark-Pleasant’s athletic director in May, said the board needed to approve a balanced budget and avoid spending any rainy day money unless absolutely necessary. He also said they need to pick a high school principal with a strong background in academics and who has proposals to improve academics, provide more vocational courses and offer more opportunities to earn college credits.

Zike said the biggest issue is that the district needs leadership.

“Education is only as strong as its leaders,” he said. “That’s the first priority that needs to be addressed.”

Zike said he wants a superintendent with academic talent, honesty and experience running successful programs. He said the superintendent must be a people person, because students, teachers and staff all need to feel important.

A superintendent must be trustworthy because he or she would be an extension of the school board and its policies, Zike said. He wants to hire someone who can start before the next school year and would favor a candidate with solutions for how to improve test scores.

“A superintendent has to have been successful at a larger school,” he said. “Clark-Pleasant has grown and is now so large that someone experienced is needed to come in and meet the needs of the community.”

Young said the board does not need to hurry with the search because the interim superintendent is well-qualified, but that he’d still like a leader in place in the summer. Finding someone who works well with the school board is more important than immediately filling the position, he said.

The superintendent will have to handle many duties the board assigns, such as asking the city of Greenwood to watch how it spends tax-increment financing district dollars, he said.

“A superintendent must listen to what the school board wants,” he said. “If he’s not listening, he’s not doing his job.”

Young said he wanted a leader who could take responsibility for academics and the management of school facilities. He said he valued background and ethics and someone who was personable.

Klenner said he wants a leader who has excellent communication skills, who can adjust to change and who’s committed to the goals. He said what works in other school districts might not necessarily work as well in Clark-Pleasant.

“I’m looking for someone with knowledge of the school corporation, not a former superintendent who’s familiar with a district that’s run different than Clark-Pleasant and would impose that,” Klenner said.

Klenner said he doesn’t want someone who’s set in his ways, can’t adapt and isn’t open to other ideas. He wants a candidate who will hear faculty concerns, work well with others and inspire confidence. The strength of a leader comes from the bottom up, from the faith of employees, he said.

He’d like a new superintendent in place by the summer so the new leader could have a say on the budget the school board approves.

Hogue said the timing of hiring a superintendent wasn’t as much of an issue as the quality of the candidate and that person’s character. He said the board must find the right person who can handle the job.

“We need to move in a timely fashion, but not necessarily quickly,” he said. “The qualities of the individual are the most important issue.”

He wants a superintendent with honesty and integrity, Hogue said. A superintendent also must be articulate to communicate well with the public and to explain how the schools are getting positive results, he said.

The next superintendent also should consider Clark-Pleasant a destination instead of just a position that pads a resume, he said.

“They should not be coming to Whiteland as a stepping stone to another corporation or using Clark-Pleasant as a training ground,” he said.

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