LOWELL - Residents and workers in the Fort Frye Local school district met Monday with the three finalists for the district's superintendent job.
Crooksville High School Principal Casey H. Coffey, Conneaut Area City Schools Superintendent Donald Kent Houston and Greenville City Schools Director of Curriculum Guy Parmigian, were interviewed in executive session by the Fort Frye board of education earlier this month, along with two other candidates. They were invited back for a second round of closed-door interviews with the board Monday at Lowell Elementary School.
While one candidate was speaking with the board for an hour, another met with about 15 staff members and the third fielded questions submitted by four residents and a former resident married to a staff member to each candidate. They addressed topics ranging from their own perceived strengths to how they would deal with the district's financial issues and the school board.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Fort Frye Local Board of Education member Lisa Perry talks with superintendent candidate Donald Kent Houston, 49, before he and fellow finalists Casey H. Coffey, 41, and Guy Parmigian, 35, met with board members, district staff and residents Monday at Lowell Elementary School.
Meeting with the public first was Parmigian, 35, who joined the Greenville district as the assistant high school principal in 2006. He now serves as director of curriculum and career technology, essentially acting as the principal for the high school's career tech center, and said he'd like this process to be his last job interview.
"I do not see this place as a stepping stone," he said. "To really build progress, you need a lot of time. So my intent would be to be here for a really long time, if you guys will have me."
Coffey said he viewed the position as a long-term job.
Casey H. Coffey, principal, Crooksville High School.
Donald Kent Houston, superintendent, Conneaut Area City Schools.
Guy Parmigian, director of curriculum and career technology, Greenville City Schools.
"If you're going to finish the drill, you're not going to come in as a superintendent for two or three years and get that done," he said.
Coffey is a McConnelsville native who has served as a middle school principal, assistant superintendent and football coach at various schools and is currently principal at Crooksville High School. He's recently been working with two other schools on a program dubbed Early High School College, designed to accelerate students' learning on the high school campus and earn them dual high school and college credit.
Houston said he couldn't predict how long he'd be in the district, although he's healthy enough to work for a while, "Lord and board willing."
"If I'm lucky enough to get this job, I'm going to leave this place better than it was when I got here," he said.
Houston is in his fifth year as superintendent in the Conneaut district. He'd served three years as assistant high school principal and boys basketball coach, when he was promoted to principal. The school implemented a process called assessment mapping and "we went from academic watch for three straight years to an excellent high school in nine months," he said.
After a year as principal of Geneva High School, Houston returned to Conneaut as superintendent. He said although he likes working in the district, he's ready for a new challenge.
Houston added that he's cut $3.2 million from that district's budget over the years, which has resulted in the loss of more than 30 teaching jobs and about 20 classified staff positions.
"It gets really tough when you're impacting your friends and neighbors and people you've known for so long," he said.
Asked about his vision for the district, Coffey said he wouldn't come in with preconceived notions about what to fix, but would assess staffing and building needs and figure out the community's goals for the district. He noted that schools are dealing with "austere times" and the district's projected carryover at the end of this year is just $144,000.
"It's very comparable to somebody that's on a fixed income," he said. "As far as new money's concerned, nobody's coming down here and handing us a big check."
The district has been working to further cut its spending, although a projected deficit was avoided by directing money originally intended for permanent improvements to the general fund.
Parmigian said the district needs to look at increasing revenue, but a levy wouldn't be his first choice.
"How do we do that? You keep students, you retain students, you attract students," he said.
Parmigian said he would work with the chamber of commerce to attract jobs to the area. He noted that Greenville is adding revenue by working with a company to create customized training programs for employers.
He also said he would try to win back students who may have left for online schooling by contacting the families and asking what the district could do to meet their needs.
Asked how they would deal with the chain of command and a "rogue" board member, the men agreed board members set policy but superintendents run the schools.
"The only time I have ever had a problem with board members is when they decide they want to be an administrator," Houston said. "You've got to stand up for what you believe is right, and you can't do your job if you're afraid to lose your job."
Both Houston and Parmigian said they would live in the district if hired. Coffey said he currently has a place about 40 minutes from Beverly and would probably continue to live there, near his family, at least at first.
Lowell resident Janell Hinton, 41, said she found the forum helpful and felt like two of the candidates stood out.
"And between those two I would have a hard time making a decision, I think," she said.
It was easier for Lower Salem resident Rodney West, 39.
"In my opinion, there's only one, only one with experience, and that's what we need," he said.
The board's regular April meeting is at 6 p.m. today, and board President Johnna Zalmanek said a decision on the next step in the superintendent search has not been made. The board hopes to make a selection by its May meeting.
Dora Jean Bumgarner has served as interim superintendent since December 2011, when Matt Dill left for another job after his contract was non-renewed several months earlier. A search last year came down to three finalists, but the board ultimately decided none were a good fit for the district.