Challenge: find and hire a school superintendent

The Stanley County Board of Education is seeking applicants for the superintendent. The position is being vacated by Daniel Hoey, who is moving to be closer to his wife and children.

After two school years, Superintendent Daniel Hoey will be leaving his position with the Stanley County School District effective June 30. He has taken another superintendent position in Hartford, South Dakota, which is 89 miles “from front porch to front porch” from where his wife and children live in Orange City, Iowa. The Stanley County Board of Education is seeking applicants for the job.

“With 149 public school districts, every inch of South Dakota’s 66 counties is encompassed in a public school district,” said Dr. Wade Pogany, executive director Associated School Boards of South Dakota (ASBSD). “On average, we have 15-20 superintendents come and go in a year. This year, we had 20 searches in March, and have a few more to go, thus we have a few more openings this year.”

The ASBSD uses websites and other avenues, including what used to be referred to as ‘headhunters’ to fill positions.

“Partnering with Tom Oster with Dakota Education Consulting, we are intimately involved in job searches,” said Pogany. “We are seeing a trend this year in principals becoming qualified and moving up to superintendent. We have a lot of first-time superintendents coming in. This year is exceptional.”

Usual reasons for job openings could be augmented by the pandemic.

“Maybe COVID caused this to be a record year in superintendent openings,” said Hoey. “If you have, say, three years to go to retirement, and after something like this, it could give a gentle push to go ahead and retire. Though, on the good days — which far outweigh the hard days — I am so thankful for having not said no two years ago when Tom [Oster] mentioned the position I eventually took.”

Oster is a former South Dakota Secretary of Education. According to Hoey and Pogany, Oster is a contact that every superintendent in the state knows.

Hoey said the Stanley County School Board has some strong positives to offer a potential superintendent.

“I can’t say enough about Stanley County. It’s a supportive community,” said Hoey. “Wonderful people, and I’ve been blessed to earn a trust and positive relationships. While I’ve been here, this is my home; that’s an important aspect for me.” Hoey added that, though living in the borders of the school district is not stipulated in his contract, living in the district and representing the district in that way is important to him. Some teachers in the Stanley County school district do not live within the district.

“I think the hiring pool for administrators overall is small,” said Pogany. “There’s not a lot of superintendents available. We’ve experienced this in the teaching area as well, with more teachers retiring than coming in. We do have some reciprocity with administrators and teachers from neighboring states, and are seeing a cross over from neighboring states and vice versa. Generally though, we ‘grow our own.’”

Hoey has a superintendent’s Education Specialist accreditation for Iowa as well as South Dakota. He said there is one major challenge for any new superintendent to a district — finances, though this coming school year all the districts will have massive one-time COVID relief funds.

“Not unique to Stanley County, our facilities are built to be used, and used they are. But it is not the buildings and materials. What product do we put out? The market needs for our graduates are changing, and future jobs are changing. Some of that has to do with buildings and grounds, some with staff and curriculum, and all with money,” said Hoey.

Hoey believes that some applicants to the small Stanley County School District will have a similar outlook as he has.

“I don’t want to be in a district so large that I don’t know the kids. I really enjoy announcing kids in the starting line-ups,” said Hoey.

Pogany strives to help school boards with the process of finding the right leaders, people who can lead through the finances, infrastructure, accreditations and certifications.

“School boards spend a lot of time in this process, this important process, for a leader to bring the schools through and solve problems. And, the people in the school districts have been through [a lot] with Covid,” said Pogany.

Judy Merriman, administrator of data management S.D. Department of Education, supplied the history of the Stanley County superintendents for the last 20 years.

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