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Wednesday, October 01, 2014, 4:08 p.m.
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Vilonia board plans to hire superintendent Monday

By Tammy Keith

This article was published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

VILONIA — The Vilonia School District Board of Education will hire a new superintendent Monday night from among three “quality” finalists, board president Jerry Roberts said.

Consultants hired by the district narrowed a list of 16 candidates to three: David Stephens, superintendent of the Nevada R-V School District in Nevada, Mo.; John Tackett, assistant superintendent in the Pulaski County School District; and Karen Walters, assistant commissioner for the Division of Human Resources, Educator Effectiveness and Licensure, in the Arkansas Department of Education.

Tackett was left off the original list that was published in the River Valley & Ozark Edition.

Bobby Lester of Jacksonville, one of the consultants hired by the board, said he was “very pleased” with the applicant pool and the finalists.

“They’ve got three that any one of the three can do the job,” Lester said. “I think it’s going to come down to chemistry between the board and the three candidates. [Board members will] be scratching their heads.”

Lester, a Rose Bud native, said he and consultant Kieth Williams, superintendent of the Bald Knob School District, reviewed the list of applicants and did extensive background checks.

Superintendent Frank Mitchell will retire in May after 28 years in the position.

Roberts said Wednesday that two of the three candidates have visited the district, toured the community and, along with their spouses, had dinner with board members and their wives. The third candidate, Walters, was scheduled to be in Vilonia on Thursday.

“We’ve got to sell the spouse on the community,” Lester said.

“Very impressive candidates,” Roberts said. “The first two were top-notch candidates, and hopefully, this last one will be as good as the first two. It’s going to make it a hard decision.”

Roberts praised Lester and Williams for bringing “quality” candidates to the table.

“When I first looked at the list, nobody stuck out,” he said. “These really just came to the top, I guess.”

Four focus groups interviewed the candidates during those visits, too, Lester said. Those groups are high school students; classified employees, which include bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians; teachers; and administrators.

“We’ve helped them get their questions together so they don’t ask any illegal questions,” Lester said.

“They’re going to be able to give in writing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. They’ll summarize those and put them [in] sealed-up envelopes,” he said. “We don’t want them ranking the candidates, and we don’t want them politicking the board.”

Roberts said the focus groups’ narratives weren’t read until after the board interviewed the candidates.

“They’re pretty on board with what we think,” he said.

Roberts said he thinks it’s good that students have been involved in the hiring, too.

He said the board will “hash it out” Monday night and make a decision.

“Dr. Mitchell, he’s hard to beat. He’s kept us financially strong,” Roberts said.

However, he said, he feels “really comfortable” with the three candidates.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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