The East Aurora School Board just named one of the district's top administrators to serve as acting superintendent through the end of June and it appears the board will carefully look inside again when it formally launches its search for a permanent school chief.
"I think we'll have confidence that we have some good internal candidates, and it won't be as big of a concern in terms of casting our net wide outside," board member Steve Zagrobelny said. "We certainly expect in-house candidates, and I think we learned a lot in our initial discussions about letting the process follow its course. With the likelihood of a few strong in-house candidates, that makes a big difference."
The board recently named Brian Russ, the district's director of instructional technology and chief information officer, as its interim superintendent through the end of the school year.
The board on Tuesday plans to outline its timetable and process for the search, which it already has said it intends to conduct on its own. The search comes at a time when other area districts are also in the market for new superintendents and it's become increasingly difficult to lure top notch, out-of-town candidates to the pool.
"Obviously, we owe it to our constituency we serve to do a thorough search for a permanent one," board member Dennis Holbrook said. "But obviously, we see things in Brian we like. We were impressed by the quality of internal candidates that expressed an interest [in the interim]. There may be a broader pool this time of other qualified in-house candidates that may seek the permanent post."
East Aurora next month is losing its six-year superintendent, James C. Bodziak, who leaves Feb. 19 to assume the superintendent post at Frontier School District. Frontier aggressively sought out Bodziak, who did not apply for the position.
Board president Daniel Brunson has confidence in the appointment of Russ. "He is an experienced, articulate professional who will provide enthusiastic leadership to the district," Brunson said.
Zagrobelny said there were qualities about Russ that made the board select him. "He's very thoughtful around the execution of the curriculum and the importance of the curriculum. Brian is very good at bringing people together," he said. "Above all, he is an educator. Whoever is chosen will have to bring their best stuff to the interviews. As much as we have high hopes for Brian, it's not a lock on the position."
Russ, who has been with East Aurora since 2004 and was principal of its former Main Street Elementary School, said he welcomes the opportunity to serve as acting superintendent. He also is not shy about wanting to be considered for the permanent post.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity and grateful to the board," Russ said, praising the cooperation of staff and administrators.
Russ knows he faces a tough budget crunch, like all districts do this year. "There will be some tough changes. But in the past, we took the time to share our concerns and find balance, and always keep in mind the kids," he said. "We're not looking to cut programs, but just adjust and modify."
Russ, who previously worked for the Akron Central School District as a teacher, elementary principal and director of special education, said he intends to take things one step at time. "My intention would be to apply fo the permanent superintendent," he said. "It's kind of like stages. Right now, because of the fiscal crisis we're facing, the internal candidates have a much better idea of how to meet financial obligations and still maintain the programs."
Holbrook and Zagrobelny said East Aurora is likely to hire a superintendent with a strong skill set who has never served as a superintendent before. It also has a history of insisting on a residency requirement.
Board members said that while the superintendency post pays well, the district remains conservative. As he leaves the district, Bodziak is earning around $152,000. The district is paying Russ a $10,000 stipend as its interim, in addition to his current $100,500 salary and benefits.
"We're a stepping stone and they realize they'll not win the lottery here," Zagrobelny said.