The Blaine County School District announced Thursday that the school board has selected GwenCarol Holmes, the chief academic officer of Alexandria Public Schools in Virginia, as the district’s new superintendent.
Holmes was unanimously chosen for the position Tuesday evening in an open school board session that followed a closed executive session. The executive session followed a public forum earlier Tuesday evening at Wood River High School when Holmes and a second finalist for the position, Richard Canfield, superintendent of schools at Sandwich Public Schools in Massachusetts, were introduced to the public and answered questions regarding their experience and philosophies and how they would apply them in Blaine County.
The district reported in a news release that Holmes will begin working in the district in early July. Her selection brings to an end a nationwide search that was started after former Superintendent Lonnie Barber’s contract was terminated by the school board in September 2013.
District Communications Director Heather Crocker told the Idaho Mountain Express Thursday that Holmes will have a two-year contract with an annual salary of $168,000, which is slightly higher than was Barber’s annual salary of $160,000.
Holmes, with 20 years of experience in education, holds a doctorate degree in educational administration. Prior to her job in Virginia, she was an assistant professor of education at Johns Hopkins University. She has also worked as an elementary school teacher, a reading and math specialist and as a school principal.
The district released the following statement from Holmes regarding her selection:
“I look forward to joining the strong team at Blaine County School District. You have strong schools that are working tirelessly to provide our children with an excellent education. This work will continue as we strive to ensure that we provide each and every child a personalized and excellent education. To continue to do this and to close the achievement gap that exists for some of our children, we need the entire community’s help.”
At Tuesday’s public forum, Holmes described Blaine County as “one of my most favorite places in the world.” She said she learned to love the Wood River Valley because of her many visits here.
“I felt welcomed here the first moment I came to Blaine County as a teenager,” she said. “The people of Blaine County are the reason I’ve been motivated to keep coming back and they are the reason I am humbled and excited to be a part of this wonderful community.”
Holmes described herself as “rabid about seeing that all children receive an excellent education.” She said important assets of being a successful administrator are listening, fostering teamwork and communicating.
She said one of the first things she would do is “start with a listening tour.”
“I need to know the pulse of this community, so I need to listen and learn from this community,” she said.
Holmes said there isn’t a “silver bullet” when it comes to providing a quality education. Instead, she said: “It’s about the hard work that educators do every day.”
Holmes said Blaine County has high quality schools but added that there is still need for improvement.
“There are some things that can be smoothed and polished, because you do have an achievement gap,” she said.
Concerning school security, Holmes said it is “not something we can be flexible about.”
“Safety has to be first before you start trying to educate kids.”
Board Chairman Shawn Bennion said at Tuesday’s forum that the district received applications for the superintendent position from “46 of 50 states.”
“It really was a nationwide search,” he said, explaining that 12 candidates were initially selected for further consideration. That list was then narrowed to six candidates who were interviewed with the assistance of a selection committee comprising district administrators and community members.
Of those six, Holmes and Canfield were selected as finalists.
About 100 people attended the forum. Attendees were provided with “candidate impression” forms for public involvement in the process.
Crocker said public opinion was heavily considered before the board made a final decision later Tuesday.
“We want to thank everyone involved in the process,” Bennion stated in the news release. “We had a great deal of involvement from all of our stakeholders and would like to thank each of them for their time and interest in our school district.”
Trustee Liz Schwerdtle stated that Holmes was her choice for superintendent because “her entire career has been motivated by a love and respect for children.”
Trustee Kathy Baker stated that Holmes was selected because it was determined that she would be a “good fit” with the district “administrative team.”
The school board also thanked Assistant Superintendent John Blackman for his service as interim superintendent.
“We are grateful to John Blackman’s excellent leadership during this time,” stated Trustee Kathryn Graves. “He worked tirelessly over the last eight months to not only maintain but improve our system.”