Filling the top job at the Learning Community will take much longer than expected.
Members of the Learning Community Council voted 13-3 Thursday night to extend the search for a new chief executive officer, most likely into next year.
They passed over two finalists, Scot Adams and Jo Ann Roberts, whose names had been forwarded to them by the Omaha search firm McPherson and Jacobson.
The council voted to work with the search firm to find an interim chief executive.
The interim chief might be needed until next spring or summer, depending on how the search goes, officials said.
Yolanda Williams, a council member who is also on the Omaha school board, said she couldn’t give the nod to either finalist.
Williams expressed concern about the process, which she said was “extremely quick.”
“I don’t feel like we’ve thoroughly vetted what we truly need,” she said.
Council Chairwoman Lorraine Chang said the search had been on “an aggressive timeline.”
She noted that summer is not the opportune time to be searching for educators.
Ted Stilwill held the top job the past four years. He announced in May that he would retire, and his last day was Aug. 14. The search commenced in June.
Council members had indicated that they were looking for someone politically astute who communicates well, embraces the Learning Community’s mission, has strong professional ethics and is skilled at building relationships.
Eight people applied.
Council member Mike Pate said it was hard to find the right person in such a small pool.
Controversy surrounding the Learning Community, and also its uncertain future, could be scaring away applicants, he said.
“If I’m looking for a job, I don’t want something I think I might not have in a year or two,” he said.
Robert Winter, a consultant with the search firm, told the council that the Learning Community is a unique entity that offers great opportunities to someone, “but it’s not for the faint of heart.”
He said it will take a special person.
Council members had scheduled Thursday’s meeting for a possible vote on hiring Adams or Roberts. The council had plenty of praise for the finalists but said the two just didn’t fit the post.
Adams is a former director of the Behavioral Health Division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Gov. Pete Ricketts last December declined to retain Adams in that post. Former Gov. Dave Heineman had appointed him in 2007.
The appointment came after Adams served 13 years as executive director of Catholic Charities of Omaha.
Adams got kudos from the council for his political savvy, social work background and a willingness to work collaboratively to help families in poverty, but his lack of experience in education was seen as a setback.
Council member Paul Hartnett said Adams’ background with Catholic Charities could help the Learning Community obtain new funding sources to expand programs.
Pate said, however, said education knowledge was important and Adams would face “a steep learning curve.”
Roberts most recently was hired in 2013 as a consultant to help close 50 schools as ordered by the Chicago Board of Education because of low enrollment or poor performance.
From 1998 to 2012, she served as intervention officer and education manager for turnaround schools in the Chicago Public Schools, after which she retired from the district.
That job involved intervening in underperforming schools, sometimes serving as principal.
Council member Jeanne Anderson said Roberts’ experience turning around struggling schools reflected someone brought in when a fix is needed.
“To me she is more of a fixer, coming in and fixing this and fixing that. And I don’t know if that’s what we need with the Learning Community,” she said.
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