The Fort Calhoun Community Schools Board of Education wants a genuine, community-based leader who has a vision and understands issues the school district faces, including budget and finance, continuing and improving academic success, navigating current projects and possible mending that needs to occur.
"No matter who gets hired for this position...There's going to be some hurt feelings," Board member Amanda Schrum said, referencing the district's three internal candidates who applied. "There's going to be some mending that needs to be done."
Board President Jon Genoways said it is important for the next superintendent to have a plan for continued success at FCCS, and they should be a genuine person.
"This school district is important to this community," Genoways said. "The thing that I found most valuable in Dr. Johnson was...he was genuine, he cared about all kids...It just says a lot about a person if they're there for all kids."
The school board held its six interviews for its next superintendent on Wednesday and Thursday. Dr. Chad Dumas, Dr. Logan Lightfoot, Nick Wemhoff, Jerry Green, Angela Simpson and Drew Wagner interviewed over the two days as the school board attempts to replace retiring Supt. Don Johnson.
Each candidate spend the day of their interview visiting with staff, touring the community and touring school facilities before meeting with the board.
The candidates were asked to begin their interviews with a presentation on how they would transition into the district as superintendent.
Dumas, Lightfoot and Wemhoff interviewed Wednesday. Green, Simpson and Wagner interviewed Thursday. The interviews on Thursday occurred after this paper went to print. Read more about the final three interviews and possible announcement about the next superintendent in Tuesday's Pilot-Tribune.
Dr. Chad Dumas: Inquire and collaborate
Dumas, currently the executive director of elementary education at Ames Community Schools, said inquiring and collaborating with others come to mind when he thinks about transitioning into FCCS. He said inquiring and collaborating comes through people, processes and planning.
"When I think about the people of the organization, that's who we are," Dumas said. "That’s my priority. Education, I think, is a people business. Trust is our currency, so we're going to get to know each other."
Dumas said he wants to get to know board members, staff, students and people in the community.
"One of my goals at (Gibbon Public Schools) was I would learn every kid — about 250 kids — by the end of the first week," he said. "I would have a contest with the kids, 'Free Dr. Pepper if I don't know your name by such and such.' So, I would get to know their names."
Dumas said he recognized healing may need to occur in the district since two or three internal candidates will be hurt after a decision is made.
He said he has some knowledge of budget and finance, but he is willing to continue to improve.
"I'm a learner, I like to learn," he said.
Once relationships are built, Dumas said he and people in the district can begin to discuss the way things are done, or processes.
"I heard someone say once, 'Before you take down a fence, you better know why it was put,'" Dumas said. "That's who I am as a collaborator, as an inquirer, why do we do things, why do we do them the way that we do."
Dumas said getting to know people and processes leads to planning, and he likes to plan five years ahead at a time.
"This is who I am as a leader, and any plan that we put in place will be done collaboratively after an inquiry-based process to understand who are we and where do we want to go," he said.
Dr. Logan Lightfoot: Develop relationships, collaborate
Lightfoot, currently superintendent at Anselmo-Merna Public Schools, said he has a plan for the first 100 days of being FCCS superintendent to begin developing collaborative, trusting relationships with students, staff, board members, administration and the community.
"Trust and collaboration don't happen overnight, that's a process," Lightfoot said. "Going through and being patient and developing a quality program takes that same process."
Lightfoot said he would have dates planned to meet with board members individually.
"It gives me insight not only to our board, but also you guys, how proud you are of our community," he said.
He also said he would want to hold an event, possibly a tailgate at an Omaha Stormchasers game, where he could visit with community members in a more informal setting.
Lightfoot said collaborating and developing relationships helps his goal of being transparent when discussing policies, financial goals and other aspects of education in the district.
"That means sometimes having good conversations, sometimes having difficult ones, but at the end of the day we're always going to be making decisions in the best interests of our kids," Lightfoot said.
It's important for students to know what their interests are, he said, so they can find success after leaving FCCS in whatever they want to do from college to trade professions.
Lightfoot also said he has a history of making budgets at Anselmo-Merna and other schools he's worked. At Anselmo-Merna, Lightfoot said he looked into how any change to the district's tax levy would impact agricultural, residential or other people living in the district financially.
"We can say, 'This is exactly how a budget affects our taxpayers,'" he said.
Lightfoot said FCCS should ensure it continues responsible growth. At the end of his interview, he provided board members a poem which discussed a boy going through a 'pretty good' school. Lightfoot said FCCS is excellent, but the poem is a call to avoid complacency.
"One of the hardest things we can do is taking that next step and see what we can do even better," he said.
Nick Wemhoff: Value everyone
Nick Wemhoff, FCCS athletics director and assistant principal, said he has four goals to transition into the superintendent position surrounding finance, growth, short- and long-range plans and establishing relationships.
"I believe I already have great relationships among students, staff, the board members, community members, parents," he said. I have great relationships. Now I'm moving to a new role...because it's a different place, I will have to continue working on those relationships, so I can continue to build those in a positive way."
Wemhoff said once he is the next superintendent of FCCS, he would want to meet with each board member individually to discuss philosophies and goals.
"We're going to be building trust because we can't do this job unless we trust each other," he said. "Each one of you and I have a great relationship, I believe, and through this process that relationship is going to continue to grow and be something fantastic."
From the school board, to superintendent position, to administration, to teachers and staff, FCCS should operate on a "unified front," Wemhoff said. He said his role as superintendent would be to support administration in supporting teachers and staff.
"We're (administration) going to meet pretty quickly to have conversations because I think that's something that's going to have to happen right away," he said. "We have a great administrative team, there's in no doubt in my mind."
Wemhoff said the biggest issue FCCS faces could be option-enrollment and how it affects school financing and decisions. But, he said he has spent the last four years learning the district's budget.
"I've spent the last four-plus years trying to learn our budget," he said. "I feel like I have a really good grasp on our budget...I love numbers."
What's very important, Wemhoff said, is having an open line of communication for people to discuss positives, concerns and possible improvements. He said open communication is important for FCCS staff, the board, students and community members.
"If you go in my office, a quote from Doug Christensen, up on the very top it says, 'The greatest gift I can give someone is space for their voice to be heard.' I believe in that completely," Wemhoff said. "Every job is important. Every individual matters. Every relationship matters. Everybody's valued."