Superintendent finalists talk motives, qualifications

Superintendent candidates, from left, Patricia Miller, Earl Pettit and Joel Shirley

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Editor’s note: Clovis schools narrowed the list of finalists for superintendent to four candidates. However, a spokesperson announced late Friday that Texico Superintendent R.L. Richards had withdrawn from consideration.

The process of finding a new superintendent for Clovis Municipal Schools is nearing its end.

The school board officially accepted Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm’s resignation Jan. 26, posted the vacancy the next day and by early February had hired retired CMS administrator G.C. Ross as an internal facilitator.

Seidenwurm said one reason she’s retiring is she felt she didn’t have the experience to deal with construction projects the district will undergo over the next 10 years as it prepares for anticipated growth at Cannon Air Force Base.

The board will interview three finalists Thursday and Friday. It is scheduled to announce the new superintendent by March 31.

Ross met with various groups of community and school members to find out what they wanted in the next superintendent.

Ross made a list of common qualifications from the various groups.

He said they asked that the next superintendent have superintendent experience, good communication skills, is visible throughout the schools and school activities, be involved with the community including the military community, understand the local culture and back employees and hold them accountable.

Here are profiles of the three finalists:

Patricia Miller

Fort Sumner Municipal Schools Superintendent Patricia Miller has spearheaded an entire campus remodel. The district has worked to remodel the elementary, middle and high school without the use of portable buildings.

Those that know her aren’t surprised she found a way to do it.

“To sum her up in one way is ‘If it’s good for kids, let’s do it, we’ll find a way,’” said Fort Sumner Secondary Principal Doreen Winn.

Winn has worked with Miller the past two years. She said Miller is good at implementing new ideas.

“We try to be real innovative over here. One way to do that is by not being afraid to be creative and find a way to do what’s good for the kids,” she said.

She also said Miller, 50, solves problems well.

“She wants to solve the problem, not ignore it,” she said. “She lets me do my job and is super supportive.”

Fort Sumner school board Vice President Tom Wilton said Miller does a phenomenal job with construction.

Wilton said Miller’s experience in Las Cruces will help her transition to a larger district like Clovis.

“What I’m most impressed with about Miller is that when she’s faced with a challenge and the conventional way to solve a problem isn’t working, she’s very good at finding a new way to solve the problem,” he said.

Miller worked as the director of technology, special education coordinator and a teacher at elementary, middle and high school levels at Las Cruces Public Schools. She is also a National Board Certified teacher.

Earl Pettit

Earl Pettit, superintendent of Douglas Unified School District in Douglas, Ariz., describes himself as a turnaround superintendent.

He said he was hired at Douglas in July 2008 to exact change, but when he tried to enforce state laws that require schools to have an English Language Learner’s program, he said he was placed on administrative leave.

Now, Pettit is suing Douglas school officials alleging violations of open-meetings laws, free speech retaliation, defamation of character and more. He’s asking for $2 million plus attorney fees.

The school district’s attorney, Anne Carl, declined to comment on the case.

Mary Good, the district’s human resources director, said some of Douglas’ school district leaders don’t want change.

“They’re used to running things like the good ol’ days,” she said. “Earl has done nothing wrong.”

Good, who has worked with Pettit for seven years, said he’s the best boss she’s ever had.

“He is fair, incredibly intelligent and visionary,” she said. “He knows the law and policy better than anybody I’ve ever known and he follows it to the letter.”

Good said Pettit is a problem solver.

“He will work at things and think things through. He’s great with shared leadership,” Good said. “He lets principals be principals and directors be directors. He believes that’s important. He doesn’t get in and micromanage.”

Pettit, a former Army captain, would understand issues of the military families in Clovis, Good said.

“I don’t think there is anything Earl couldn’t do and do well,” she said.

Donna Savill, president of the Douglas Education Association, said Pettit spearheaded a smooth relationship between the union and the administration that didn’t exist before.

“He has no problem working collaboratively,” she said. “He would find solutions. We wouldn’t always see eye to eye and we would meet in the middle.”

Joel Shirley

Clovis schools Deputy Superintendent of Operations Joel Shirley has worked in the Clovis district since 2008. Prior, he worked in Grady as a superintendent for two years. His experience in education has largely been in New Mexico.

Shirley, 54, said in his application letter that his diverse background in New Mexico public education makes him a top candidate for the job.

He said in the letter that his two years with the district has allowed him insight into how the district operates. He also said “I have not been here long enough to develop the kind of entanglements that (school) boards often worry about when hiring from within.”

New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators Director Tom Sullivan said Shirley’s varied background makes him a strong candidate to be superintendent in Clovis. Sullivan worked with Shirley at Moriarty Municipal Schools.

Shirley has been a teacher at the elementary, middle and high school levels. He has been an elementary and middle school principal.

“He’s got the full skill set from the varied experience during his long and distinguished career,” Sullivan said.

Shirley has worked on the facility side of two districts, Clovis and Moriarty, which Sullivan said means he’ll be able to handle construction and growth coming to Clovis.

“Clearly, one of his strengths is the facility management side. When he worked in Moriarty, it was booming. He knows what growth means as far as services to students and construction and keeping ahead of that curve,” Sullivan said.

Grady school board President Bill Page said Shirley is an excellent administrator who takes care of business.

“He’s just the kind that you dream of,” he said.

“He doesn’t put things on the back burner and let them stew. He takes care of exactly what needs to be taken care of,” Page said.