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Search for new superintendent of schools narrowed to five finalists; three are WCSD employees (updated)

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One candidate is under fire in Texas

Five people have been identified as finalists for the new superintendent of schools of the Washoe County School District. At least one of the candidates is embroiled in controversy at a school district in Texas, and another abruptly resigned from his post last week in Florida.

“We have assembled a strong group of candidates for this important position—both locally and from outside the area—and we look forward to introducing them to the community at upcoming public events,” said Walter Cooper of McPherson and Jacobson, the search firm that selected helped to solicit for the candidates. “Input from the community and district employees will be crucial to the final selection process, and we will welcome feedback from these important stakeholders as we move forward.” 

The candidates will meet with the school board later this month. A final selection from the board is expected in mid-May. The five finalists include two current WCSD employees and three from out of the area. 

One of five finalists, Christopher Bernier, who was under consideration to become the next superintendent, removed his name from consideration. The search firm added Paul LaMarca, WCSD’s chief student and family supports officer, to the list of finalists.

“We committed to the Board of Trustees that we would bring forward five qualified candidates for their consideration as they make this important decision,” Cooper said.

Controversies in Texas

Elizabeth Fagen
Elizabeth Fagen

Elizabeth Fagen has been the superintendent of the Humble, Texas, independent school district since 2016. She was considered controversial for supporting school vouchers while a superintendent in Colorado, and her husband, Troy Kite, is under investigation after a Title IX complaint was filed against him by his assistant athletic director.

According to reporting by the Houston Chronicle, he then filed counter complaints in response to the allegations, which cost the district up to $800,000 to investigate.

Kite recently retired. The Title IX report was recently released — read it here — after the school board voted to release it. The Chronicle reported on Tuesday that Kite allegedly “fostered an inappropriate ‘locker-room’ atmosphere,” and those participating in the investigation feared retaliation at the district.

The Chronicle reported that Kite disagreed with the report’s findings but admitted to using inappropriate language. An independent attorney who conducted the investigation recommended Kite be fired.

“I recused myself from this matter on May 4, 2023, and therefore, have made no decisions regarding any of the pending Title IX complaints, including spending,” Fagen was quoted by the Chronicle.

Some called for the Humble ISD to “clean house,” including the seven elected trustees.

Fagan previously served as superintendent of the Douglas County School District in Colorado. She was called “controversial” for supporting school vouchers, a move celebrated by conservative education reform advocates that resulted in two legal challenges. Chalkbeat Colorado reported she was the only finalist to run the Humble school district.

“Many Douglas County parents are celebrating her departure,” The Denver Post reported in 2016 after Fagan was announced to run the Humble district. According to the Chronicle, Fagen’s appointment to Humble’s district generated concerns from those in Colorado.

“A petition was reportedly circulated when she was first hired in Humble with more than 2,000 signatures urging the board to reconsider its decision, according to Community Impact reporting,” the Chronicle reported. 

Second candidate abruptly resigned last week in Florida

Christopher Bernier
Christopher Bernier

Christopher Bernier, one of the candidates, allegedly resigned as superintendent of the Lee County School District in Ft. Myers, Florida, last week, according to one news source. His sudden departure surprised the school board.

“This came about very quickly obviously,” board Chair Sam Fisher told The News-Press last week. “It was unexpected.” He previously served as the Chief of Staff in the Clark County (Nevada) School District from 2019-2022.

After initial publication of this article, Bernier withdrew his name from the search.

Third candidate also a finalist for Colorado position

Charles McNulty
Charles McNulty

Charles McNulty has been Superintendent of the Pulaski County School District in Little Rock, Arkansas, since 2018. He previously served as superintendent for the School District of Black Hawk in Wisconsin and as associate superintendent in Waterloo, Iowa. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported Tuesday he is also a finalist for a superintendent position in Pueblo, Colorado.

“Yes, I am currently in the interview process with both districts,” McNulty said Monday in a text message to the Democrat Gazette. He was a finalist for two other positions last year as well.

Three finalists are WCSD employees

Joseph Ernst
Joseph Ernst

Joseph Ernst serves as the chief continuous improvement officer for WCSD, a position he has held since 2021. Before that, he served WCSD since 1996 as a co-lead area superintendent, elementary school principal, assistant principal and teacher.

Troy Parks has been the chief academic officer of Washoe County School District since 2020. He began a career in education as an elementary school teacher at WCSD in 1996. Since then, he has served as dean of students, math coordinator, principal, school performance director, area superintendent and lead area superintendent.

Troy R. Parks
Troy Parks

The search firm added Paul LaMarca after Bernier withdrew his nme. LaMarca is WCSD’s chief student and family supports officer.

The five finalists will meet with school trustees and engage in interviews during a series of events from April 24-26. The public is invited to meet the finalists at an event at Wooster High School on Thursday, April 25, from 5 to 8:15 p.m. The community room at the event will be live-streamed, and questions can be submitted before 5 p.m. on April 24—email questions to [email protected]

Details, including language interpretation, parking and a schedule for the public event, will be posted online before the event. More information is available at www.WashoeSchools.net/SuperintendentSearch

CORRECTIONS & UPDATE: Kite’s retirement was not approved by the school board as initially reported, and his complaints were filed in response to allegations made against him, not against his assistant as originally reported. This story has also been updated to show Bernier withdrew his name and LaMarca was added to the list of finalists.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.

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