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Big shoes to fill for new Shaker superintendent


January 20, 2010
BELMONT — Residents invited to a public session to discuss what they want in a new superintendent said that what they'd really like is someone with similar characteristics to current Superintendent Michael Cozort.

"We're not going to get a Mike Cozort clone walking in the door," Shaker Regional School Board member Thomas Goulette said Wednesday night, acknowledging that several people have said they wish that was possible. "We have someone who has done an outstanding job for us since day one."

The district is losing Cozort, who announced his retirement in September, at the end of the school year. The School Board has been conducting a search since the announcement was made, and last week held public input sessions for district residents to share the qualities they'd like the new superintendent to have. Though the board had compiled its own list, with qualities ranging from sense of humor to "experienced and seasoned leader," board Chair Diane O'Hara said the members were interested in gaining insight from the community.

Though a Cozort clone isn't possible, several people named qualities of his that they'd like the new superintendent to have. One parent noted that Cozort seems to attend every school function, while others said his approachability has been beneficial both to parents and students.

"I think it's important to have somebody that they feel they can walk up to and give them a high five," parent Colleen Akerman said.

District resident Bill Clary said it would make sense for the new person to have a reasonable commute, since someone living too far away would probably be less accessible.

Parent Jennifer Sottak said she thought it would be important for the candidate to have superintendent experience, rather than just "leadership" experience – something the School Board did not specify in its ad. She said that since the district does not have an assistant superintendent, it would be best if the incoming superintendent had that higher level of experience.

Parent Kecia Stanley suggested that the board choose a candidate without ties to the school district, "somebody totally fresh that everyone can get to know on a clean slate."

The application period closed last Friday; as of Wednesday, the New Hampshire School Boards Association, which is helping with the search, had received 15 applications. The board will organize and filter through the applications before passing them on to the School Board. The board will then interview its top candidates and do site visits for the finalists, followed by a public forum that will allow district residents to ask questions. People at last week's meeting asked that the board have a more formal public forum so the public can pose the same questions to each candidate, rather than having the finalists mingle and talk to people individually. Goulette said the board would take feedback from that forum in the form of phone calls or emails, and though it's never been done before, he said they could have another public meeting if residents wished to communicate their thoughts with the board in person.

O'Hara said that if the board doesn't find the right candidate, it will not "settle for next best." The district would have to find a temp, and the search would be reopened.

"If they're a good candidate, they're applying to multiple districts," Goulette said.

Tom Haley, representing the NH School Boards Association, said that 15 applications was a "very respectable number." He also noted that several other school districts in the state are searching for superintendents, including Lebanon, Litchfield and Sunapee.

According to the ad, the superintendent's salary will range from $110,000 to $125,000 and has a competitive benefits package.

O'Hara said the board would like to choose a candidate before the annual district meeting in March, but the timeline has not been set in stone.

Anyone wishing to provide further input to the School Board may write to The New Hampshire School Boards Association, 25 Triangle Park Drive, Suite 101, Concord NH, 03301, or email terry@nhsba.org.

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