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Douglas school board whittles it down to two

Shannon Litz / Tribune News Service
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GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – The Douglas County School District narrowed its superintendent search to two finalists: Dave Jensen, assistant superintendent of Humboldt County School District in Winnemucca, and Mary Bull, former superintendent of Vallejo City Unified School District in California.

On Tuesday, school board members voted unanimously to move forward with the two candidates and scheduled roundtable interviews with each on Wednesday.

There was confusion surrounding selection of the finalists, as board members undertook three separate straw polls to reach the decision.

The first poll, in which each member circled two candidates, resulted in Jensen being the front-runner “by quite a margin.” Bull and Washoe County Schools Academic Officer Lisa Noonan were tied for second. Heather Henderson-Hill, deputy superintendent of Chinook’s Edge School Division in Alberta, Canada, was fourth.

Board members were split on whether to move forward with Jensen or include the tied candidates. Announcing a front-runner could discourage the runners-up, consultant Jim Huge said. However, board members pointed out that technically, Jensen could have been everyone’s second choice.

The second poll, in which each board member voted for only one candidate, resulted in a deadlock. The third poll, in which each member ranked their top two choices, first and second, resulted in the two finalists. However, the board did not disclose at the meeting which candidate was ranked first in the final poll nor which board members voted for whom.

The results of each poll were tallied by Huge and Board President Teri Jamin behind closed doors.

Over the last two weeks, board members have been vetting the four candidates. Huge estimated 75 percent of sources were provided by the candidates themselves while 25 percent of contacts came from outside research.

“Ninety five percent of the comments were positive,” Huge said.

According to Huge, Mary Bull was described as a strong, tough-headed leader with good communication skills and a serious focus on raising student achievement.

“The point was made that’s she’s a real change agent,” said Board Clerk Keith Roman. “The guy said she’s incredible. She gets things done, but she’s relentless.”

One concern with Bull, though, was whether her controversial departure from Vallejo in August, when the remainder of her contract was bought out by the Vallejo City school board, would affect her ability to perform.

According to the Vallejo Times-Herald, Bull was placed on paid leave in June 2009 as the district investigated an employee complaint against her. According to the paper, she was terminated without cause in August and paid out the remainder of her contract, though no details of the investigation were made public.

Board member Sharla Hales said a parent from the area told her that Bull “really gets it.” Hales also said that a board member who voted in favor of Bull’s buyout said the measure was political in nature and not based on any character flaw. Hales said the board member told her that Bull “would be an asset to any district.”

“This person said there were institutional processes she challenged that were too much for people,” Hales said. “It hasn’t alleviated all my concerns, but this person said enough to find comfort in it.”

Jamin said a middle school principal in Vallejo told her Bull took on “nepotism” in the district.

“It resulted in reassigning staff,” said Jamin. “It was not popular, but necessary.”

During public comment, Carson Valley Middle School teacher Nicolle Larson questioned how the community would perceive Bull in the wake of former superintendent Carol Lark’s contentious departure.

“How well will she (Bull) get along with everybody?” Larson said. “It concerns me as a parent. Are we going to get ourselves in the same situation?”

Moving to Jensen, the former school psychologist was described by inside sources as “down-to-earth, composed and honest,” said Huge.

“After a hard decision, he can get both sides back together again,” Huge said.

Board member Cindy Trigg said that everybody she spoke with in Humboldt County told her they did not want to lose Jensen, but that he’d be great in Douglas County.

“They said he’s not only brilliant, but innovative,” Trigg said.

Roman said Jensen was described as the district’s “go-to guy.”

“There’s something to be said about keeping a job in a tight-knit community like that for 15 years,” Roman said. “Essentially, I don’t think there’s anything this guy hasn’t done for a school district that’s comparable in size to ours.”

However, Douglas County principals have raised concerns about Jensen’s lack of site administration experience.

“I sat in a room with administrators and within five minutes we had our top two candidates, and Dave Jensen was not one,” Jacks Valley Elementary School Principal Pam Gilmartin told board members Tuesday. “There needs to be further investigation, and you need to look carefully at his instructional leadership. I think we need a strong instructional leader.”


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