OGDEN — The Ogden School District will open up its search for a new superintendent nationally, despite opposition from some school board members.
In a 4-3 vote, the school board approved the decision to go forward with an external call for candidates following the Monday announcement that Superintendent Rich Nye will move on to lead Granite School District in Salt Lake County.
“We are here tonight at a special meeting to discuss a ... need that has been placed before us, and it has become necessary because of the pending resignation of Dr. Nye, who we are all extremely sorrowful to see go somewhere else, but we knew we wouldn’t have him forever,” said board Chair Jennifer Zundel.
Approximately seven community members offered public comment, with many making similar requests — that the school board consider the diverse demographics of the district and take into account community input.
The Ogden School District is one of two school districts in the state that are not majority white. According to enrollment data from the Utah State Board of Education, 50.9% of students in the district are Hispanic.
From the perspective of the district’s teachers, it’s important that Latino students have someone on top who understands them, said Clayton Kirkham, a special education teacher at T.O. Smith Elementary School and president of Ogden Education Association, a union comprised of educators in the district.
“The teachers are concerned, would have a preference ... in favor of a person of color,” he said. “Someone who has experience with the Latino population, who is possibly bilingual or a Spanish speaker or has dual immersion type of background.”
Kirkham also said he hopes the next superintendent will have experience with diverse populations of students and working in a district similar to Ogden.
Another teacher who works at Mount Ogden Junior High School, Kirk Stapley, expressed the same sentiment. Stapley said he’s noticed how enriching it is for Latino students when they have the opportunity to interact with teachers and staff members who look like them.
“This would be a very powerful step if we were to choose someone from that community to show these students that they are represented here, they’re understood and that their culture and their experiences matter in the district,” he said.
Parents who spoke at the meeting, like Katie Matheson, the mother of a student at Taylor Canyon Elementary School, also voiced their desire that the school board include candidates of color in the selection process.
“That is my only request at this time, is that it is done in a way that is equitable and seeks out leaders for our students who reflect back to the students who they are,” she said.
The teachers union requested that the search be national and potentially include a selection committee that involves teachers. That was echoed in comments from former school board member and Ogden Diversity Commission member Jeremy Shinoda, as well as Ogden NAACP Education Chair Bianca Mittendorf.
“Due to the lack of schools with diverse student populations within Utah, it’ll be necessary to utilize a national search to recruit candidates to ensure the needs of our culturally and linguistically diverse students are met,” Mittendorf said.
A national search was one of three options the school board discussed at the meeting, the other two being conducting targeted interviews with specific administrators in the district and opening up the position to all employees within the district.
An internal search, Zundel said, would be a short process in which the board would aim to produce a new superintendent by June 3. The external option, however, would take longer and would have a target announcement date of Sept. 16.
Zundel has served on the Ogden School Board for over 16 years and has been involved in the selection of five separate superintendents. She adamantly opposed the external search, saying current employees would keep the district on the positive trajectory it has been on with consistently increasing graduation rates.
She also contended that the district would have a difficult time attracting a quality candidate because the pay for the superintendent of Ogden School District is too low. According to information published by the state auditor’s office, Nye made $186,010 in 2020. In neighboring Weber School District, the superintendent was paid $198,009 and the Davis School District superintendent made $234,493.
“If we’re doing an external search simply to try to find somebody of color or somebody that’s more diverse, then I think we are missing our boat with our law,” she said.
Local school boards are charged with selecting superintendents under Utah code 53G-4-301, which says, “A local school board shall appoint the superintendent on the basis of outstanding professional qualifications.”
Board member Arlene Anderson, who is the first Hispanic person to serve on the school board in 12 years, pushed back against that notion. She said state law does not stipulate that a superintendent must be selected from a pool of local candidates.
Anderson and other board members also cited the opinions of the members of the public who spoke in the meeting, noting that everyone who expressed a preference spoke in support of a national search.
“It just sounds like from what we’ve heard tonight that people are interested in a national search, and I appreciate your wisdom though, but just from what we heard that’s something we need to do,” said board member Susan Richards.
Of the seven board members, four voted for and three — Zundel, Joyce Wilson and Nancy Blair — voted against the national search.
While the board has not yet determined whether it will counsel with any selection committees or hold more public hearings to discuss the superintendent selection process, it will continue to accept public comment at regular board meetings and via email to email@example.com.