April Smith of the Board of Education watched both forums featuring the three finalists for superintendent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. She liked the candidates, she said, but none of the three really wowed her.
“I felt that all of the candidates were competent, but none of them stood out head and shoulders above the rest as a person I am willing to have lead our community,” Smith said.
It turned out the rest of the school board felt the same way. After going into executive session, the board voted Tuesday to suspend the search for a new superintendent. Instead of interviewing the three finalists — Justin Barnes of Montana, Vickie Cartwright of Wisconsin and Corey Weiss of Alaska — and selecting a new superintendent on Saturday, they will use that meeting to regroup.
“There is nothing wrong with any of the candidates,” Smith said. “They were great. They will be good for some district.”
“We are not looking to just fill a position,” she added. “We are looking to find a leader. We are looking for a perfect match for a leader for our community. We just didn’t see that after the forums, and we felt it was the most responsible course forward.”
School board President Tim Doran said finding the right person for the job is more important than filling the position in a timely manner. He is open to appointing an interim superintendent, if necessary, as the search continues, he said.
“I think there are good people out there that can help us in the short term, if we need, so that we can make sure in the long term that we have the best person for Fairbanks,” Doran said. “I’d rather take a little bit longer to get to that point than to rush it just simply to say, ‘Oh, we filled the position.’ Our students are worth the time.”
The finalists were selected by the board after a Saturday meeting a few weeks ago. Last week, the hopefuls participated in forums with public education staff and the community where they answered questions. The school district also ran a survey and took comments on the finalists.
Doran said the hopefuls were generous with their time and he appreciates that they met online with public education staff and families.
“They spent two of their evenings,” he said.
The school board president didn’t know if the same approach would be repeated as the superintendent search continues or if the school board will take a different approach.
He thinks the COVID-19 pandemic may be limiting the applicant pool. The pandemic threw many school districts into turmoil. For a variety of reasons, superintendents who are ready to move to a larger school district may be hesitant to move at this time.
“Saturday is to look at what our options are,” Doran said. “That’s when we’ll decide the next steps.”
Superintendent Karen Gaborik is retiring from the Fairbanks school district, effective July 1, after 26 years.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.