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Survey responses guided Gainesville superintendent search

Coming Sunday

The Times profiles Jeremy Williams, the lone finalist to be Gainesville City Schools superintendent.

Surveys completed by more than 500 Gainesville City Schools employees, school resource council members and community residents played a role in developing the profile used in selecting Gainesville’s new superintendent.

Jeremy Williams, Union County Schools associate superintendent, was named the lone finalist to become the Gainesville system’s superintendent. Board members expect to officially hire Williams at their board meeting May 1.

Sandy Addis, of King-Cooper and Associates that helped with the search, said he first worked with the board to develop a profile of qualities they wanted in a superintendent. Then, surveys were made available to three groups — school employees, school resource councils and the community — seeking input.

“When you take hundreds of people and average their comments together, then you begin to see what the silent majority wants,” Addis said. “(The survey) is a good indicator of what the Gainesville community, Gainesville employees and the school system are looking for.”

The answers to the survey showed the three groups all placed high importance on the new superintendent being someone with high moral character, a strong work ethic, willing to listen, able to make tough decisions, admit mistakes, attract and maintain quality faculty and staff and work well with the school board.

“Once the surveys were completed, the board used them to make adjustments to the profile,” he said. “The board had their ideas, and the community and employee input sort of (fleshed) it out and added some things and showed the board what they thought was most important.”

The surveys even led to some “tweaks” in the board’s top characteristics in a new superintendent.

“One thing that (the board) didn’t put in their profile originally was the ability to work in harmony with the board; they just didn’t list that,” Addis said. “In the survey that came up as a fairly important item. In their discussion, the board said, ‘Yeah, they’re right. It is important.’”

Addis said survey responses also indicated the community had concerns about changing  superintendents too often. As a result of those concerns, Addis said, “The board gave consideration to what’s the likelihood someone will be a keeper” as it looked at candidates.

A total of 545 people responded to the survey. While the number is not a high percentage of  district employees and community, Addis said the amount of responses “was typical of a stable school district.”

Williams was chosen from 32 candidates, eight of which came from outside Georgia. The out-of-state candidates came were from New Mexico, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Michigan, according to Addis.

Addis said his firm checked the candidates and their references against the profile and listed them in categories depending on how close they were to the board’s profile.

Ten candidates were interviewed, and five were called back for a second interview. Addis said none of the 10 were eliminated until the board chose Williams as the lone finalist.

“This board approached the search in a very open-minded way,” Addis said. “It’s hard for a board to keep personalities out of this thing, to keep personal preferences out. This board did an exceptional job of focusing on what they want and need and not who they want.”

School board Chairman Brett Mercer called the process of selecting a superintendent “a good, unifying experience.”

“It was a lengthy process, trying and it was difficult,” he said. “We had great candidates, but in the end it was a unanimous decision and to me, that speaks volumes. It says a lot about the candidate.

“We all had the same intention,” Mercer added. “We were following the surveys that we had and looked for the candidate that we felt emulated as many of those values as possible. We value the input of the citizenry and the teachers, administrators and school governance councils, and (the survey) was the best way that we could gather their input.”

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