COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Three Rivers Community Schools Interim Superintendent Nikki Nash speaks about her candidacy for the permanent superintendent position for the district during Monday’s TRCS Board of Education meeting. Nash will be formally interviewed for the spot on March 7, with the school board opting to not use a search firm to find the district’s new leader.

Nash with inside track to be next TRCS superintendent

School board won’t use search firm; formal interview on March 7, community to submit questions

THREE RIVERS — Three Rivers Community Schools looks like it has its next superintendent, and save for the formal interview, appears to be a done deal.

During Monday’s TRCS Board of Education meeting, Board President Erin Nowak said current interim superintendent Nikki Nash has agreed to interview for the permanent position, with a formal interview scheduled for the board’s next meeting on Monday, March 7.

Later on in the meeting, by consensus and not a formal vote, the board decided to “negate” going with a search firm to find the district’s next leader and move forward with the interview, a move that could signal the job is Nash’s to lose.

The interview process, Nowak said, would consist of Nash verifying that she is qualified to be a superintendent, and then the board will hold a community meeting where they, as well as the community, would ask her interview questions. Following the interview, the board would decide whether or not to go forward with the hire.

For the community aspect of the interview, Nowak said an online Google form would be created by the end of the week to allow residents to send in questions to ask Nash during the interview. Once the form goes live, people will have until the morning of March 7 to submit questions.

(EDIT: The form is now available at https://forms.gle/dMW99xTZFXeHCovV8.)

Nash has been the interim superintendent for the district since Oct. 12, when she took over for Ron Moag following his resignation.

Almost all of the board members agreed with the idea of not doing a search during board discussion, the main dissenter being Trustee Kevin Hamilton, who reiterated his stance from the last school board meeting saying he still wanted to do a search. Nowak responded, saying she felt like the district has a “fit” with Nash, and that going on a search would be a “waste of money and time for the district.” She added that a representative from the Michigan Association of School Boards, one of the firms who does superintendent searches and gave the district a proposal, told her that if they have someone who they are comfortable in the interim, they “should offer them the superintendent position.”

“The pool of superintendents right now are not great. The chance of us getting a lot of quality candidates with an interim applying is slim to none,” Nowak said. “What happens when people who already have a superintendent position come and interview for a position, their districts are made known that they are interviewing outside of their districts, so a lot of them aren’t taking that risk when there’s an interim that’s also interviewing.”

Hamilton continued to rail against the recommendation to not do a search, saying that while Nash has done a good job so far and should be put in a candidate pool and not be subject to a first round of interviews like other candidates would be if a search is done, it would be “fair” to do a search and follow board policy and the district’s strategic plan to “recruit, develop and retain highly qualified and diverse teachers and staff.”

“We should do the best we can for our students and be fair, because right now, in my opinion, the strategic plan is just words,” Hamilton said. “We have an opportunity to put action behind it and do things right that we’re not doing now. … Anyone who is diverse, there is no opportunity. Why? Because we’re not interviewing them. Why? Because we’re not posting the position. Again, what I’m seeing is just words, we’re only doing part of it, trying to retain someone we already have who has done a good job. If we’re not going to do what that says, let’s scrap it and rewrite it.”

Vice President Melissa Bliss and Treasurer Julia Awe countered Hamilton, mentioning the retainment portion of the strategic plan priority. Awe said Nash has been in the community and is a “legacy” employee. Trustee Linda Baker added that it would seem like the board would be “going through the motions” if they did a search.

“I don’t know if that’s fair to the community either, because I think one component of a successful superintendent is the connection with the community to gain the public’s trust, parents, grandparents, everybody, and that requires some connection to the community. It takes a person from outside some time to establish it, and maybe they never establish it,” Baker said, agreeing with Nowak’s assessment of a search being a waste of time. “Yet, we have somebody that’s been there their whole life and has been successful at a number of administration roles. I don’t know if we’re going to find someone else who we don’t know and that the community doesn’t know, that’d be better than the person we do have.”

Hamilton responded, saying going into a situation with “a closed mind” and their sights set somewhere else already, it wouldn’t be fair to other people interviewing. Bliss said the point she and her fellow board members were trying to make is that Nash is a candidate the board is “happy with.”

“We don’t want to lose Nikki, and I think that might be the difference, because if you go into a situation thinking that this is as good as it’s going to get and it couldn’t get any better, then we’re not going to go into it with an open mind looking for someone else,” Bliss said. “If Nikki’s interested, I don’t feel that I need to look any further, because she checks all the boxes. For the district, it’s less risk compared to going with an outside candidate.”

Secretary Ben Karle said he has “mixed feelings” about the situation, but said it was the “right move” to give Nash the opportunity to interview. Nowak said the situation is between “words on paper” and “action on the ground.”

“Words on paper, resumes, they can only really take you so far. I want to see someone work, I want to see how they interact with our staff, not hearing from the last district and how great they were,” Nowak said. “We have someone who’s been doing that for this district for the last five months, and it’s not words on paper, it’s action on the ground in our district, and I think there’s no greater reward for that than to offer her the superintendent position should the interview go well.”

Later in the meeting, Nash addressed a point brought up during public comment about her previous indication back in October that she wasn’t interested in being the permanent superintendent. She said the situation has “evolved” in the last four months since she made that statement, and referenced how she didn’t think she wanted to be a principal at one point in her career.

“When I went back to being a teacher after my first career in accounting, never in a million years did I think I would be a principal, to be honest with you,” Nash said. “The journey has taken me to places I never thought I would go. I have a ton of passion for this district, and I bleed purple. The last four months, different things have evolved in front of me I didn’t think would evolve, and for me, I feel that I have the passion and know our district is hungry for someone committed to this district. I have no intentions of going anywhere, and I feel that I’m opening the doors to the position just to see where the journey takes me, because I’m committed to being here.”

The March 7 meeting is expected to be livestreamed on YouTube as well as in-person at the district’s administrative offices on Sixth Avenue.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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