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Interested residents want engagement: MLSD meeting on hiring a new superintendent is sparsely attended; search underway

Staff Writer | January 17, 2022 1:07 AM

MOSES LAKE — Whoever the Moses Lake School District hires as its next superintendent needs to be more involved in the community and do a better job of communicating with parents, students and taxpayers.

That was the consensus of a group of district residents at a small meeting on Thursday at the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center at 6 p.m., an hour before the MLSD’s board meeting.

“This is a very polarized community, and that goes back all the way to the 2017 bond vote,” said Matt Paluch, a father of three who ran for a school board seat in 2021. “An effective superintendent will bridge the gap.”

“Communication is horrible,” added resident David Hunt. “Nobody knows what’s going on.”

The sparsely attended meeting was overseen by newly elected school board member Paul Hill and Sergio Hernandez, a consultant with Liberty Lake-based educational search firm Northwest Leadership Associates and himself a retired school superintendent.

Hernandez told attendees his company is asking the community — both online and at meetings like the one Thursday evening — which qualities people believe are most important in the next superintendent as well as posting the advertisement and screening applicants.

“In the past years, we’d get 15, 20, 30 applications, but there’s a lot less movement these days with COVID and contentious board meetings,” Hernandez said. “We’re still seeing good candidates.”

In fact, Hernandez said Northwest was contacted by four candidates interested in applying for the position in Moses Lake, with three of them superintendents in smaller school districts.

Hernandez said his company is accepting applications for the Moses Lake superintendent position — which is one of 13 senior school district administrator openings posted on Northwest’s website — until Feb. 25. If everything goes according to plan, Northwest will hand vetted applications to the school board to winnow the candidates down to three in early March, with day-long interviews of the three finalists beginning on March 15.

The goal, Hernandez explained, is to make the hiring process as “transparent as possible.” He said district residents will also be selected to observe the preliminary interviews of all the candidates and provide feedback to the school board, with the Moses Lake School Board selecting the three finalists and hiring the new superintendent from among the finalists.

“There will be ample opportunity to comment,” he said.

As part of the process, Hernandez said it has been asking teachers, students and district residents what they believe the strengths are of the district and the community, what professional and character qualities a new superintendent should possess and what challenges the new schools chief will face when she or he takes the job.

The general agreement among those in attendance was the district is “very family focused” staffed with hard-working people who want to do the best for the kids they educate.

It would also help if they were from a similar community — agricultural, large and growing Latino population — to succeed, Paluch said.

“Doctors and nurses from urban areas don’t stay for that long,” Paluch noted. “To set someone up for success, they have to be from similar circumstances.”

Former school board member Oscar Ochoa said he would also like to see a little more cultural diversity or engagement with the growing Latino population — according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, around 50% of the MLSD’s students are Latino.

“I was part of the migrant council, and there were more people there than at any other meetings, and never saw other administrators go to hear what people are saying,” Ochoa said.