Superintendent search firm to hold final Pleasanton forum tonight

Meetings offer public chance to offer opinions about qualities they'd like to see in school district's next leader

The Pleasanton school district's contracted superintendent search firm McPherson & Jacobson held four community meetings last week and will hold another one at 6 p.m. tonight to get various opinions about the qualities they'd like to see in the district's new leader.

About 45 people attended last week's meetings, with attendance ranging from one person to about 30.

The final forum will be held in the district's board room at 4665 Bernal Ave. Translation services are available upon request.

The school district is searching for a new superintendent after former superintendent Parvin Ahmadi resigned last May to take a job as Castro Valley's superintendent. Former Amador Valley principal Jim Hansen is filling in as interim superintendent until June.

The McPherson & Jacobson hopes to have a new superintendent in place by this summer.

At one forum, Don Helms, a retired superintendent and search firm representative, pulled his chair closer to the small group that had gathered at the session he attended. He pointed to his two-foot-tall Post-it board and asked: Why should someone want to come to Pleasanton's school district? What challenges should they be aware of?

The overall sentiments expressed at the forums has been that Pleasanton is a tight-knit community with an active parent base, a population that values education and a family-friendly culture.

"There's a lot of pride in the community because of those connections that run deep," parent Kelly French said, adding that Pleasanton has many multi-generation families.

"There's a whole sense of community, almost like Mayberry," parent Bruce Henry said, equating the town to the fictional community in the "Andy Griffith Show."

"The street we live on, we know all of our neighbors," he added.

Others stated Pleasanton's academic strength lies in its teachers and initiatives, such as leadership clubs and science-and-technology programs.

But the reality is that a vocal parent base means a superintendent will hear about every problem or difficulty in the district, and Pleasanton has its share of growing pains that a new leader will inherit, attendees said.

Most immediately, the district is dealing with administrative turnover at several schools and at the district level.

Amador Valley's principal Tom Drescher is the most recent principal to state he'll be leaving his post. Earlier this month, interim principal Chris Connor started at Walnut Grove after prior principal Jan Steed was moved to a district position.

Other schools -- Donlon, Hearst, Fairlands and Vintage Hills elementary schools along with Pleasanton Middle School -- have seen new principals already this school year. Harvest Park Middle has had two principal changes and is currently being overseen by two co-principals.

At the district level, new administrators have been come on board, including deputy superintendent of business services Micaela Ochoa and assistant superintendent of human resources Dianne Howell.

Other concerns mentioned at the superintendent search forums were the contentious deliberations over a revised calendar for the 2015-16 year, growing pains from the implementation of Common Core and tensions created over the dismissal of former Walnut Grove Elementary School principal Jon Vranesh and legal actions that followed.

Parents also urged the search firm to look for candidates who have experience passing a parcel tax, a potential financial option the board is considering looking into.

In general, attendee indicated they want a leader who is transparent about decisions to be made to help the district heal old wounds and move forward.

When the board selects the finalists, those names will become public, and specific community groups will be able to meet with each one before a new superintendent is selected. The board is expected to select those specialized community groups in upcoming board meetings.

A public survey is also expected to be launched in the next few weeks for community members to share their thoughts about the superintendent search.

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