The Milton School Board, pictured at a meeting last November, has hired a consultant for its superintendent search. (File photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

The Milton School Board hired a consultant to lead the district’s ongoing superintendent search and formed a candidate screening committee.

Dr. Daniel French, a former Vermont superintendent and current school leadership program coordinator at St. Michael’s College, is leading the search. Community members and the teacher’s union recommended the board hire a consultant once superintendent Ann Bradshaw gave notice in December.

“He can help provide that level of separation, if you will, between the board and the process so that it is run with the proper oversight, guidance and direction,” school board member Michael Joseph said.

French is currently circulating a survey for community members to describe what qualities they’d like to see the next superintendent embody.

The questionnaire first asks which areas of expertise should hold the most weight in a superintendent’s job, such as facilities management, public relations or curriculum development. The survey then asks which experiences are most important, such as working with diverse populations or “excellent speaking skills with large and small groups.”

Up next are what characteristics the school chief should personify, such as being a problem solver, transparent, inclusive or honest and ethical.

Participants then rate the district’s current status in categories like the curriculum’s rigor, safe school environment and resources for both advanced students and those who need extra help.

French ends the questionnaire asking residents if the new superintendent should keep the district running its current course or veer in a new direction.

Community members have until March 1 to complete the survey, which is housed on the district’s website. As of last Friday, French said about 300 people had provided their insight. French says he will summarize the results and use them as talking points in two upcoming community focus groups.

French will meet with district employees on March 9 to discuss what they see as important factors to consider. That night, community members are invited to join a second focus group.

French said he will discuss the survey summary with those present, split them into small groups and ask them four pointed questions to initiate discussion, which will hopefully fall in line with the thoughts survey takers expressed.

Last week, French also named 12 members to a screening committee that will review resumes for the position —posted for hire on January 25 — and conduct first-round interviews the week of March 5. 

Members will then send two or three qualified candidates to the board, which will conduct second-round interviews. French named superintendent executive assistant Jennifer Saunders, data and assessment coordinator Tammy Boone, elementary school principal Bridget Gagne, second grade teacher Hillary Schmid, middle school nurse Dorey Demers, high school co-principal Anne Blake, retired music teacher Gisele McRae, parents Christine Harvey and Sheila Beaulieu, community member Rhonda Stuart, board chairwoman Lori Donna and trustee Joseph to the committee.

French noted he was responsible for taking into account the interests of committee applicants and whom they represent.

Donna and Joseph are leading the search for the board, they say, because of the unpredictability of Town Meeting Day. With local elections coming up next week, Donna could be ousted from her seat by challenger Emily Hecker. If so, Joseph (who is unopposed) said his role would be updating new board members on search specifics.

French said his work creates transparency and promotes communication, which Miltonians have long called for in school matters. In the same vein, search updates from French are periodically posted on the district’s website. 

Balancing the interests of community members and the board is a tough act, French said, noting transparency is the foremost way to accomplish equilibrium.

“Individuals express interest in participating in the process, which is wonderful,” French said. “But I think folks understand, ultimately, firstly, that it’s a board decision.”

Multiple other Vermont districts have historically contracted French for his services. Recently, French worked to hire a superintendent for the Essex Westford School District when it merged under Act 46 last year.

These consolidations, Joseph noted, have left some superintendents without jobs, which could work in Milton’s favor. Donna also added Milton could attract some school leaders because it’s a self-contained, stand-alone district that’s not taking part in statewide consolidation efforts. 

French said the hiring timeline for Bradshaw’s replacement isn’t overly aggressive, but the district has to work relatively quickly.

Applicants who work in other districts likely have until April 1 to notify their employers if they’re moving on. Bradshaw’s last day is June 31, and the new hire’s anticipated start date is July 1, French confirmed.

So far, French said he’s received a strong and typical response for the top Milton role. He wouldn’t say how many people have submitted applications, but noted Vermont school administrator vacancies usually see between 12 and 30 submissions.

French will provide a report to the school board at its March 12 meeting. The district will pay him up to $5,000 for his efforts.

“[We’re keeping] our eye focused on what the important objective is here, and that’s to hire the best superintendent possible for the district,” French said, “an individual who is a good fit for the board in terms of where the board wants to see the district move in the future.”

French’s community focus group will be held on March 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Milton High School library.