School board discusses how to replace Sathoff
Superintendent Art Sathoff shared with the school board at Thursday’s work session his recent experience in being recruited to a new job to give board members an understanding of the process and point out options.
Sathoff was offered and accepted the superintendent job in Indianola school district. He begins in Indianola July 1.
The Fairfield school board is set to accept his resignation at tonight’s school board meeting. Sathoff’s last day on his contract would be June 30.
The board is ultimately responsible for seeking and hiring another superintendent for the Fairfield Community School District. Thursday, the board set about discussing a strategy for hiring.
The board decided to invite four to five educational search firms to give a presentation to the school board about their services and fees. The board hopes to decide on a firm by March 24.
Fred McElwee, director of auxiliary services in the Fairfield district, told the school board that the administrative team — which includes all building principals and associate principals, the district business manager, technology director, curriculum director and the superintendent and McElwee — is ready and willing to assist the board in its search for a new superintendent.
“We appreciated letting the administrative team have input,” said McElwee. “We really want to collaborate with the board. We support the use of a professional search firm. A search firm has the ability to draw out candidates and provide a support matrix for selection.
“We’ll want an aggressive timeline to hire a new superintendent. We realize some things should be done in-house and we’re willing to help and support the board there also.”
School board president Jennifer Anderson acknowledged the administrators.
“We appreciate the support of each and every one of you,” she said.
“We have truly been blessed with Art Sathoff, but we’ll need to move forward.”
Anderson said the board wants to work with the administrative team.
“We also appreciate any help you can give, without crossing a line,” Anderson said to Sathoff. “But I also don’t want to under-utilize you.”
Sathoff said his involvement in the superintendent search/hire process was up to the board.
“I care deeply about this district, but I don’t want to be counter-productive to any candidates,” he said.
Anderson said the biggest support Sathoff could offer would be to continue doing the good job he’s done and help the district with the transition.
“I appreciate Mr. Sathoff’s leadership, but I also want other administrators to come forward in this and lead,” said Anderson.
Sathoff said the administrative team’s suggestion to hire a search firm was a good suggestion.
“In terms of hours needed for background checks and finding a number of candidates, it’s a lot of time involved,” said Sathoff. “Any search firm will offer a basic service and other services can usually be added.
“In this recent process, I was sought out,” he said. “I was not looking for another job. The search firm called me to let me know about the opening and suggested I apply. I got another call from them within a day to ask if I was
interested. So I had two calls even before submitting any application materials.
“After submitting materials, a different member of the search firm called and interviewed me for about 45 minutes,” said Sathoff. “This same guy made all my reference calls.
“The hardest part of the process was a one-way interview,” he said. “The search firm sent me a link, and it’s something new they are trying. It was only two questions, and as a candidate, I was to speak my answers, which were recorded and each question allowed a minute response. As I answered the question, the clock was ticking down the time. Answers could be re-recorded. The questions were about leadership.”
Sathoff was invited to a first interview with the Indianola school board, which lasted about 1.5 hours. He was invited back in three days for more interviews, spending the day in the district and talking with several stakeholder groups.
“The search firm called me twice in between the two interviews in the district, it felt very hands-on,” said Sathoff.
District support staff, community leaders, business people, district staff, teachers and Indianola administrative team interviewed Sathoff.
“Each group left time for me to ask them questions,” he said. “Each group took notes and had a score sheet for each candidate. When I was an internal candidate here [for superintendent] it was similar, plus I was interviewed by a group of students. High school or even middle school students can be helpful.
“I think the Fairfield board and administrative team is smart enough to have the right questions and selecting, but having the time and availability to do all the preparation of getting the right candidates is where a search firm is valuable,” said Sathoff.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work before getting to interview applicants.”
Sathoff said the search firm working for Indianola provided a list of 10-12 characteristics the district was looking for in a superintendent.
“I found that very helpful, because I was able to see what I have that matches the district’s wants and needs,” he said.
Business manager Kim Sheets said she’d like to see the process be compact as well as quick.
“I’ve already had calls from neighboring school districts that their use of a search firm was a waste of money,” said school board member Jerry Nelson.
Rich Metcalf said the district would need to spend some money to get the best candidates.
“Mr. Sathoff said he wouldn’t have applied [to Indianola] if the search firm hadn’t contacted him and asked,” said Brian Stone, Fairfield High School associate principal.