The Westside Community Schools on Thursday took another step closer to finding their next superintendent.

Only two candidates remain for the district’s top job. On Thursday night, those candidates once again faced questions from the school board.

Melissa Poloncic, superintendent of the Douglas County West Community Schools, and Mike Lucas, superintendent of the York Public Schools, are the two finalists to lead the district.

The Westside board quizzed Poloncic and Lucas for about an hour each about academic performance and test scores within their current districts, their leadership styles and how they manage a district budget.

Board members even asked the candidates to use nouns to describe themselves instead of adjectives.

The public interviews were the last stop for Lucas and Poloncic, who spent the entire day touring the district and talking to people, including students.

Poloncic was interviewed first. She told the board about dealing with and growing from challenges like a failed bond issue while at the helm of her district. She also emphasized her passion for teaching and helping kids.

“That is the why,” she said. “That’s why we’re all here. It’s so that kids learn. That is our greatest calling as leaders, as teachers, is to make sure kids achieve.”

If picked as the next superintendent, she said she would spend her first 100 days on the job establishing relationships with people within the district and stakeholders in the community.

Poloncic has been the superintendent of Douglas County West since 2014.

Before that, she was an elementary school principal in Millard and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; a consultant; and a teacher in Sutherland, Nebraska, and Kearney, Nebraska.

Lucas arrived for his interview with a packet of information for the board and audience members about his background and academic gains in his district, as well as recommendation letters.

When answering questions from the board, Lucas drew on his almost 16 years as a superintendent.

“A superintendent cannot just afford to be a school leader but has to be a community leader as well,” Lucas said. “Has to help make those community connections.”

He told the board that students motivate him to succeed and that doing what’s best for students has to be the focus.

When a district faces financial trouble, he said, the budget cuts and restraints have to be as far away from the classroom as possible.

Lucas has been superintendent of the York Public Schools since 2009. Prior to that, he was superintendent of the Franklin Public Schools from 2003 to 2009.

Lucas has also been a K-6 principal in West Point, Nebraska; a K-8 principal in Kansas; and a third-grade teacher in Kansas.

The school board will pick the next superintendent at its Jan. 21 meeting.

The board whittled the list to Lucas and Poloncic after initially interviewing four candidates.

Current Westside Superintendent Blane McCann will retire at the end of the school year. He has led the district since 2012.

Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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