The race to lead the Papillion-La Vista Public Schools is entering the final stretch.
After a second day of interviewing superintendent candidates, school board members met for two hours in closed session to hash out who will move on to the next phase.
Board members are expected to invite two or three of the six finalists to participate in public forums next week, giving the community a chance to meet them and ask questions through a moderator.
That decision could come as early as today.
The board is looking to replace Superintendent Rick Black, who will retire June 30.
During interviews Wednesday, the only Omaha-area candidate made an impassioned appeal for the job.
Andrew Rikli, Westside assistant superintendent for administrative operations, 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 steppingstone.
“I would like to end my career here,” Rikli said.
Board members also questioned candidates Rick Williams of Texas and Joseph Gothard of Wisconsin, quizzing all three with the same list of questions asked of other candidates Tuesday.
The questions centered on leadership, interaction with the community, improving achievement for poor children, dealing with contentious topics, relationships with the board and staff and how to plan for the future.
Once again, 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.
Williams, who works for an agency in Texas that's similar to an educational service unit in Nebraska, had a general understanding of the Learning Community.
After board members explained how three relatively affluent districts — Westside, Millard and Elkhorn — have benefited the most financially, Williams said: “I can see why you'd be opposed.”
Gothard, assistant superintendent for secondary schools in Madison, Wis., likewise had only general knowledge of the education cooperative.
“I believe in social justice in education, I truly do, absolutely,” he said, adding that apparently the Learning Community may be a case of solving one problem but creating another. He said it's difficult to prove that student-choice plans improve achievement.
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.”
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.
Williams, who has a doctorate in education from the University of Texas, works as assistant director in the division of administrative services for Region 10 Education Service Center.
He offered a simple approach to improving achievement for poor children.
“Very simply, you have, and you maintain, high expectations for all kids,” he said. When they achieve, they should be recognized, he said.
He said the Common Core will be a critical issue in the future. Like Nebraska, he said, Texas has not adopted the standards.
“I'm not a big proponent of a national curriculum,” he said.
Texas has a state curriculum, and there's no evidence it has improved achievement, he said.
He said the teacher, not the curriculum, drives what goes on in the classroom, and teaching is an art.
Mike Jones, vice president of the Papillion-La Vista school board, told board members that Williams is in the running for a job in another district as well.
Williams declined to say what district when asked by a reporter. However, Louisiana news outlets reported he is a finalist for superintendent in the Rapides Parish School District.
Gothard, who obtained his doctorate in education from Edgewood College in Madison, Wis., said he is “a firm believer in high expectations for all.”
He said improving achievement for children in poverty requires having high expectations, reducing truancy and implementing early childhood education. Training teachers to make good use of test data is also important, he said.
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