Two candidates survived a cut in the race to become the next superintendent of Papillion-La Vista Public Schools.
School board members on Thursday announced that they had narrowed the list of six finalists to two Nebraska educators: Andrew Rikli, assistant superintendent of Westside Community Schools, and Ted DeTurk, superintendent of West Point Public Schools.
The board invited both men to return next week to participate in community forums and additional interviews with the board.
The decision came after the board finished two days of interviews with all six finalists and discussed in a two-hour closed session Wednesday night who should advance.
The board is looking to replace superintendent Rick Black, who will retire June 30.
Rikli, assistant superintendent for administrative operations for the Westside district in Omaha, made a passionate appeal for the job in his board interview Wednesday.
He called the position “the best job in the state.”
Rikli told board members they would be hard-pressed to find someone with the same depth and breadth of experience. He said he was not looking at the job as a stepping stone.
“I would like to end my career here,” Rikli said.
He has been a Westside administrator since 2004.
Prior to that he worked for the Nebraska Department of Education and was a teacher in the Lincoln Public Schools. Westside is a Class A school district with an enrollment of 6,000 students.
DeTurk, in his interview, told the board that coming from the West Point district, where enrollment is 850, he's “a small dog in this fight.”
He said he was honored to be named a finalist for the job he described as “the premier position” in the state. DeTurk said he sees the job as a good fit for him.
“The most interesting piece of this job for me is the fact that it's the next logical step for my career, coming into a Class A school, well-run, well-organized, does exceptionally well from an achievement standpoint,” he said. “I think my philosophy, my vision could enhance that even more.”
DeTurk has been superintendent with the West Point Public Schools since 2004.
Prior to that he served as a principal in Grand Island and Palmer, Neb., and a teacher in Ellsworth, Kansas.
At next week's forums, the candidates will present brief opening comments and then answer submitted questions from the community, district spokeswoman Annette Eyman said.
The forums will take place at the district's central offices, 420 S. Washington St. in Papillion.
DeTurk will attend a forum Monday, and Rikli Tuesday. Both forums are scheduled from 7 to 8 p.m.
The forums will be moderated by Rob McCartney, anchor from KETV news in Omaha.
Residents should submit questions via email to Eyman at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the district's Facebook page.
Each candidate will face another interview next week with the board after participating in a forum.
Candidates who were cut were Rick Williams of Texas, Joseph Gothard of Wisconsin, Anita Micich of Iowa and Roger DeGroot of South Dakota.
During questioning, the board asked candidates what they knew about the Learning Community and whether they agreed with the board's position opposing it.
Rikli knew the most.
“The fact of the matter is, I do believe you've got it right,” he told the board.
Westside officials have been “cautiously supportive” because the law that created the education cooperative preserved Westside's boundaries from takeover, he said, and because the district has benefited financially from the new common property tax levy.
Rikli said there's no evidence that transporting children between schools via open enrollment transfers improves academic achievement.
Although the Learning Community's early childhood education programs show some promise for improving achievement, he said, overall achievement in Douglas and Sarpy Counties has not improved.
He said the 11 member districts get less state aid with the Learning Community than without it.
DeTurk said the Learning Community appeared to be an extra layer of governance infringing on local control.
“I don't see how it does anything for student achievement,” he said.
Asked what critical issues are facing public education, he said schools have to embrace the next generation of technology and put greater emphasis on early childhood education to improve achievement for poor students.
Rikli, who has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said if hired he would “do lots of listening” to community members and leaders.
Asked about the relationship with the board, he said: “You are my boss. You are my employer.” He said he'd strive for open communication and develop trust.
He said Papillion-La Vista is not a broken district in need of a change agent. He said that it's a “premier district” and that he would focus on how to take it “to the next level.”
“My vision is, quite simply, we're going to be the best,” Rikli said.
He said Westside has replicated some of the programs in Papillion-La Vista. He said he would move with his wife to the district and immerse himself in the community.
Rikli said that although Nebraska has not adopted the Common Core State Standards, which 45 other states adopted, their adoption here “may be inevitable” and districts should prepare for that possibility.
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