APS board votes to approve interim superintendent, select search firm

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AURORA | The Aurora Public Schools board of education officially appointed an acting superintendent and selected a firm to conduct the search for its next superintendent at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Current chief of staff Mark Seglem was unanimously appointed interim superintendent after being nominated in December by a 5-2 vote by the board. Seglem has been with the district since 2019 and was former superintendent Rico Munn’s suggestion to serve as interim while the board looks for his replacement. 

Munn announced he would be leaving when his contract expires at the end of June due to what he termed a “conflict of vision” with the school board. He will serve in an advisory role this semester as Seglem assumes day-to-day superintendent duties.

The board initially had a meeting to confirm Seglem on Jan. 3, following a required waiting period from when he was nominated, but the vote was delayed a week because the district’s legal counsel could not attend the meeting and some of the board members had not received the contract in advance.

Under the terms of the contract Seglem will serve through June 30 and will be paid a per diem of $1,000 per work day, based on an equivalent annual salary of $260,000 a year. The term can be extended by mutual agreement, though the board has signaled that they do not want the search to drag into the summer months. Once the contract expires, Seglem will resume his duties and salary as chief of staff through the end of 2023.

The contract stipulates that Seglem will not attempt to seek the permanent superintendent position for himself, and that he cannot hire or appoint his own chief of staff.

“We look forward to the hard work ahead,” board president Debbie Gerkin said to Seglem after the board voted to approve the contract.

Following the vote, the board heard presentations from the three firms that responded to a request for proposals the board submitted to conduct the search for the next superintendent. The board ultimately voted 6-1 to select Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), an Illinois-based national educational leadership search firm. 

The board will be working with a familiar face. Former Cherry Creek superintendent Scott Siegfried now works for HYA and will be one of the people leading APS’s search. Siegfried left CCSD at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, citing the strain of the pandemic and a desire to spend more time with his family.

The other two candidates were JG Consulting, an Austin-based education search firm and Mackenzie Eason, a Fort Worth-based search firm that is not education specific. JG and HYA scored very similarly on a rubric the board filled out evaluating the firm’s presentations and written proposals they submitted, with HYA receiving several more points.

Mackenzie Eason scored poorly on the rubric compared to the others and did not address specific questions the board had asked the firms to focus on in their Tuesday presentations. Managing partner Darien George, who was the main presenter to the APS board, ran for a seat on the Fort Worth city council in 2021 but dropped out of the race following accusations of misconduct and an incident where he yelled profanities at other candidates after a public forum, according to reporting from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Several board members said they thought HYA’s written proposal was stronger but were more impressed by JG’s presentation, particularly information they mentioned about their community engagement work, which the board has stated will be a priority during the search.

Board member Vicki Reinhard, the one no vote on the selection, expressed concern about whether APS would get the same level of attention with a large firm like HYA. During presentations HYA said it conducts about 80 to 100 searches a year while JG said it did about 3-4 a quarter.

Multiple board members said they would feel comfortable working with either firm but ultimately the board voted to choose HYA since it scored slightly higher on its rubric, which included criteria such as quality of the RFP, technical expertise and experience working with large and diverse districts.

The board went back and forth on whether to call references for the two firms before taking a vote, which would require either scheduling another special meeting or waiting until the board’s regular business meeting next Tuesday.

Board member Tramaine Duncan expressed frustration about delaying the decision to wait for references, particularly after last week’s scheduled vote on the interim appointment vote was delayed.

“The more we continue to push things back, the longer it’s going to take,” he said of the search process. “References in my opinion should have been checked prior to tonight’s meeting.”

AJ Crabill, a consultant the APS board has worked with for a number of years and who facilitated the board’s process of scoring the search firms, said he had worked with both firms in the past and he did not think it would make much of a difference either way.

“Realistically both of these firms are relatively known quantities,” he said. “I doubt that you will find any surprises with either of them.”

HYA has worked with a number of other Colorado school districts to find superintendents, including Denver Public Schools in 2018 and Jeffco Public Schools and the Poudre School District in 2021. It is currently in the final stages of working with Littleton Public Schools, where Siegfried is one of the main associates.

HYA vice president Mike Richie will be the lead consultant on APS’ search and will be joined by HYA associates Siegfried and Micah Ali. Ali is a board member on the Compton Unified School District and Richie is a former principal and superintendent.

During the presentation, Richie said HYA typically budgets 3-4 weeks for community engagement, 6-8 weeks for recruitment and 3-4 weeks for the selection process. The board would have access to information about every candidate who applies for the position through an online portal managed by HYA.

“This is what really makes us different,” he said.

Ortiz asked how APS can be sure it will receive the time and attention it needs with such a large company. Richie said Ali will only be working on this search and that once he and Siegfried finish the Littleton search this is the only search they will be working on.

“We make sure we don’t overextend ourselves,” he said.

Reinhard asked Siegfried if it would be a problem for him to be involved in the search since he likely knows many of the parties involved already. He said he believes that being a local will benefit the district.

“Having me here, I’m able to be available, I understand the community, I’ve worked and lived around the community so I can bring that to the table but as far as judging candidates that’s your job as the board of education,” he said. “My job is to bring you good candidates, which we can and will do.”

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