Residents provide feedback on skills they desire in new Lindbergh leader

By Mike Anthony
Executive Editor

Roughly 25 residents attended a forum last week designed to elicit their input on what characteristics and skill sets they would like to see in the new superintendent of Lindbergh Schools.
The Nov. 8 community forum was moderated by Brent Underwood, a consultant with the Missouri School Boards’ Association, who is facilitating the search for a successor to Superintendent Jim Simpson. Simpson is retiring at the end of the current school year.
Forum participants offered a variety of viewpoints on what they would like to see in Simpson’s successor, including experience in school finance, visionary leadership and excellent communication skills.
The Board of Education voted unanimously Oct. 9 to hire the MSBA to facilitate the search to replace Simpson, who has served as superintendent since July 1, 2008. He announced in January 2016 that he would retire at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Among those attending the forum were parents, senior citizens and several district teachers, including Kim Scronce, who serves as president of the Lindbergh National Education Association.
Noting that he had been hired by the board to facilitate the search just over three weeks ago, Underwood said, “It’s been a very whirlwind three weeks and change.
“You are part of the ninth focus group that I have facilitated in that time. The district is very committed to getting opinions and perceptions of others about the importance of this hire — clearly the most important hire that this board will make during their time together …”
Besides the community forum, Underwood met with Simpson for a one-on-one interview, administrators, principals, former board members, parent leaders, parents, Lindbergh High School student leaders and district staff.
An online survey regarding the superintendent search garnered nearly 800 responses, he said.
The deadline to apply for the job originally was Friday, Nov. 10, but was extended to Tuesday, Nov. 14, to allow some additional candidates who were in the process of applying to complete their applications and be included in the candidate pool, according to Communications Director Beth Johnston.
“… There are lots of things that make this position if you were an aspiring superintendent or maybe a sitting superintendent someplace who was looking to maybe finish his or her career that would love to think about coming to Lindbergh — destination position, that’s what I kind of refer to it as,” Underwood said. “Someone will probably come to us and retire with us. That would be my goal …”
Forum participants were asked to respond to the question: “What characteristics, competencies, skill sets and/or experiences are we looking for in our next superintendent?”
Citing teachers’ dissatisfaction over pay in recent years and the fact that candidates endorsed by the Lindbergh National Education Association now comprise a majority of the school board, resident Robert Miller said he wants a superintendent who has “successful experience in coordinating contract negotiations and administering bargaining agreements.”
Noting he was both a staff member and a resident, teacher Scott Fleming said, “I feel like maybe we should look for someone who looks for more feedback from the stakeholders and does a periodic collection of information or reflection piece of just to say how are things going? How am I perceived as doing my job?”
One woman said she believed the next superintendent should be someone who is experienced, having previously served as a superintendent.
“… I would prefer not to see someone from our existing administration …,” she added.
But another resident later said he believes internal candidates should be considered, citing the academic success Lindbergh has enjoyed the past 20 years.
“… When you develop a program or run an organization where you’ve got that many people, first off, leadership develops leadership, and that has to happen. And you can see what it did here,” George Jenkerson said. “I mean, these principals in this school district are fantastic. Any one of them could step in probably and do the job. Now I believe that our people should not be overlooked …”
Resident Caleb Friz said, “I want someone who values equity and diversity, especially since the district is changing. We need someone who’s going to be inclusive of all the new people that are coming in.”
Former Sappington Elementary School Principal Joseph Sartorius said he believes the district needs “a visionary leader.”
“… If you settle on what our track record has been, it doesn’t give us a vision for the future, and so we really need to have someone who can be a visionary leader that can take a look at what our needs are,” he said. “Our community’s very supportive. Twenty years ago, one in every four parents in our district that had kids (of) school age, went to parochial schools. So our tax support has come from our community with most of the folks either not having kids or not having kids in the Lindbergh School District.
“And that’s huge that we can still pass tax increases and so forth, and we’re going to need another one to do something about our high school. It’s just down the road …”
Simpson’s predecessor, Jim Sandfort, was very visible in the community, Sartorius noted.
“Dr. Simpson not so much, even though I think Dr. Simpson is a very good delegator,” he said. “Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and so we need someone that can be in the community …”
Fleming later said he believes the new superintendent should be charismatic, not just within the district, but someone who will be able to rally the community when the district seeks a tax-rate increase.
Resident Steven Langhorst, a former Mehlville School District principal, said, “… I think what is important to me in a superintendent is someone with the skill sets, and charisma is not a bad word to throw in there, but also the skill sets to facilitate, collaborate and inspire the people of the community to pull in all of these various viewpoints, values, needs, desires, and bring the whole community together — the parents, students, staff, non-Lindbergh people that just live around here — pull us all together in one direction so we’re focusing on what’s best for our students.
“In this day and age, that’s not an easy thing to do. But I think it’s more important now than ever. So like somebody’s interested in technology. Somebody’s interested in how we pay our teachers. Somebody’s got this, somebody’s got that. We need a leader who can pull us all together so that we work through it, and that means some people might have to give us this, but they get this. We compromise …”