District selects firm in superintendent search

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The Whitefish School Board has selected Ray and Associates to help find a new superintendent for the district.

The board on Nov. 12 approved the selection of Ray and Associates, a national educational executive leadership search firm, at a base fee of $13,000.

The district is looking to hire a new superintendent following current Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt’s announcement of her resignation last month, effective at the end of the school year.

Trustee Heather Vrentas said she and the rest of the superintendent search committee met three times and selected Ray and Associates out of five contenders.

Along with Vrentas, the committee is made up of Trustees Katie Clarke and Ruth Harrison, Director of Educational Services Dave Means, District Business Director Lucie Shea and Dave Fern, a former trustee.

Vrentas said the committee considered whether to search as a board or to hire an outside firm and ultimately landed on the latter.

“We started out with the broadest question of, ‘Resignation is confirmed with a date, what are our options for hiring?’ We looked into conducting the search ourselves as a board or as a committee. We talked to a trustee in a neighboring district who had been a part of a school board-led search and heard some pitfalls and, in that case, the worst case scenario of trustees doing the work. We weighed the pros and cons of that investment and how serious the hiring is and decided we should research search firms,” she said.

Vrentas said the committee was impressed with Ray and Associates’ stakeholder feedback process, active recruiting and candidate vetting process.

They also come with a local tie-in as well, Clarke said, as the firm has a Montana office in Bigfork and will work with Darlene Schottle, who herself has served as a superintendent in the Kalispell School District.

“We had a lot of input along the way from faculty and staff telling us that it was important that they wanted somebody who understood the community and what we’re all about, and when we talked to Ray and Associates and they said, ‘Oh, our consultant’s in Bigfork,’ it was so exciting,” she said.

Harrison also said she’s happy with the committee’s selection.

“Having gone through that process, I feel really confident that we’ve made a solid and well-considered choice. This one was pretty standout,” she said.

Schottle, speaking via phone, said she’s excited to work with the district and has a vested interest in Montana education.

“I have a very big interest in education in the state of Montana and I was very excited when I got the call from Ray and Associates to have me interview and even more pleased and honored that you wanted me to be your lead associate and facilitator, and I really look forward to working with you,” she said.

The board is set to have its first work session with Schottle and Ray and Associates on Dec. 3.

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