Steve Hopkins was officially voted in as the next Natrona County School District superintendent on Monday night, with one trustee voting against the choice for reasons that included lack of an open selection process.
“My colleagues see it as an as an endorsement of an individual and I see it as a violation of some important principles that I hold dear and have honored, I hope effectively, for many years," Trustee Audrey Cotherman told her fellow board members.
Cotherman told the Star-Tribune after the meeting that she admires and supports Hopkins, and believes he can succeed in his new role when he replaces current Superintendent Joel Dvorak, who is retiring in June. He may well have come out on top in an open process, she said.
However, without the chance to recruit, select, compare and vote among candidates in an open process, Cotherman hopes Hopkins’ character will compensate for a flawed system, she told trustees.
Cotherman said public agencies should open positions to anyone qualified, whether the search spans the county, state or nationwide. The procedure also should have included a description that emphasized relevant experience and education as a school superintendent, she said.
Hopkins currently is the district's associate superintendent for business services, which concerns Cotherman. The district needs extensive change, a process it has just begun, she said.
“It is almost impossible for an inside candidate, especially a decent, considerate, sensitive person, to terminate or reassign the colleagues or change the system when he or she has been a member of that team for several years,” Cotherman said. “I also believe that sometimes an individual is so remarkable and has so much integrity that he or she accomplishes the nearly impossible."
Cotherman in the interview listed several necessary changes, including the role of the district office.
“How do you become a service agency that serves the teachers and the principals and the people and students in school, rather than a directive agency?” Cotherman said.
She said the district must address a problem between teachers and the central office.
“We’ve been told over and over that morale is fairly bad in the district,” Cotherman said.
Other board members spoke in favor of the hiring process, saying it saved time and money and produced a good candidate.
“I can’t see spending money and time to find a superintendent that I don’t believe would surpass what we have right here with us,” Trustee Kevin Christopherson said. “And the idea that people in Wyoming aren’t the best and that we have to go to some other state to fulfill the really important positions just does not set well with me.”
Board Chairwoman Rita Walsh said the trustees could have conducted a national search, which would have taken a great deal of time and energy, and couldn't have produced a better candidate. She and others said Hopkins already knows the district.
Trustee Suzanne Sandoval said Hopkins is the right candidate at the right time.
She said his relationships with state legislators can have a healing effect for the district in communicating with decision-makers in Cheyenne. Those include the School Facilities Department, she said in an interview later with the Star-Tribune.
“And that is my greatest hope for what I think you can help us accomplish in your position that we are about to put you into,” Sandoval told trustees.
Trustee Dave Applegate concurred.
“Whether we wanted to be a board of construction building ... that is the board we are,” Applegate said. “We are about ready to start the largest construction project that this community has ever seen for schools -- a quarter of a billion dollars. We need to stay the course.”