Superintendent search kicks into high gear

Mehlville, Oakville students meet with MSBA consultant

By Gloria Lloyd

The search for the next Mehlville School District superintendent kicks into high gear this week, as a consultant matches applications for the position with the profile of what the Board of Education, students, teachers and the community want in their next leader.

During a sparsely attended superintendent-search forum at the Nottelmann Auditorium last week, Missouri School Boards’ Association, or MSBA, consultant Brent Underwood fielded thoughts from a dozen members of the community on what they want to see in the new superintendent, followed by forums this week with students, teachers and parents.

Using themes from the forums and a thousand online surveys, Underwood will build a profile and screen applicants over the holidays. Since applications had to be postmarked by Dec. 12 and could still arrive after the Call went to press, it is not yet known how many candidates applied for the Mehlville job.

At a forum at Oakville High School Monday, 16 students from Oakville High and Mehlville High School met with Underwood and developed 13 characteristics they would like to see in the district’s next leader.

Oakville students suggested that the next superintendent have a social media presence similar to former Superintendent Eric Knost and have an outgoing, enthusiastic attitude, taking the time to stop by students’ clubs and activities after school to get to know them better.

Mehlville students were more vocal at the forum and suggested that the next superintendent be someone local or familiar with the area who continues interacting with students, continues the student forums and advisory group set up by interim Superintendent Norm Ridder and communicates with everyone in the district at all levels — students, teachers and staff.

A Mehlville athlete said he would like to see a superintendent who values athletics as much as academics, while an Oakville student who is involved in drama and theater hoped the person would also have an appreciation for the arts.

“That way they don’t cut our programs,” he noted.

An Oakville student said she would like to see someone who could connect the schools more with residents who do not have children that go to school, so that community members would want to attend more events and games at schools to see what students are up to.

“I know it’s easier in smaller towns for the whole community to get involved and go to those games, but I feel like (Oakville and south county) should do it as well,” she said.

Finally, a Mehlville student suggested that the best candidate would be someone who is not primarily focused on money, since he or she might leave for a higher-paying job elsewhere.

At last week’s community forum, the dozen attendees were roughly evenly divided between former board members, members of township committees, parents who wanted to criticize Ridder and other community members.

Former board Vice President Elaine Powers said she hopes the next superintendent has what she could best describe as a “heart for students,” who wants to help “those kids who need the extra help, those kids who are caught in the middle, those kids who are invisible,” and has a strong background in curriculum and is comfortable talking to the media and “willing and able to be visible, locally, regionally and statewide.”

Former board President Mark Stoner said it’s important that the next superintendent understands the unique Mehlville community, thinks outside the box and challenges the “educational bureaucracy.”

The next leader also should have high expectations for staff and students, while challenging the effects of Common Core, and be a fiscal conservative willing to take community feedback seriously, he said.

“I’d like a superintendent willing to make Mehlville a home — we’ve had far too much turnover the past several years,” Stoner added.

While some residents applauded Ridder for the focus on strategic planning that he’s brought to the district, other parents were unhappy that Ridder did not appear on television after a recent protest at Mehlville High and said they want the next superintendent to communicate more like Knost.

“I read that in the surveys quite a bit, that folks were hoping for the kind of communication and the kind of connection that they had with Dr. Knost,” Underwood said.

After several critiques of Ridder, one resident noted the Mehlville superintendent needs to have a characteristic no one else had mentioned — a strong backbone.