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The Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees will evaluate 19 candidates vying to replace the school district's superintendent Jack Copps, who plans to step down at the end of the current school year. 

Board Chair Sarah Sullivan said the application window closed last Friday with 19 completed applications. The school board hired Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct a nationwide search, though Sullivan said she doesn’t expect candidates to be too far outside of the region.

Sullivan said the names of four to six finalists will be released after the school board has narrowed the applicant pool. While Sullivan said the public will be involved in the final process, the board hasn’t yet determined how that will work. 

“We think community involvement is incredibly important, and we want to hear what people think. We need to come up with a process for how that’s going to look,” she said.

On Feb. 21, the search firm will return to Helena after doing background checks and screening all of the candidates. They will make recommendations to the board on who they should interview, and while the board can ignore the firm’s recommendations and interview any candidate, Sullivan said she expects to follow their lead.

The school board plans to make a hiring decision on March 12, Sullivan said.

Hazard, Young, Attea and Associations previously came to Helena to interview board members, staff, parents, students and community members to gauge what kind of superintendent would be a good fit. The firm then built a document with desired characteristics.

Posted on the district’s website, the desired characteristics include a highly visible leader who is able to implement district-wide expectations while protecting teacher individuality, build relationships with parents and the community, recruit and retain quality personnel, and develop and maintain the district’s budget.

HYA also conducted an online survey on the strengths and challenges in the district and received 304 responses from faculty and 650 from parents. Several students, community members, staff and administrators also completed the survey.

Survey results show every group recognized the contributions of the current superintendent. 

“Jack captured the attention of people in the community by building relationships and has always been available to discuss any issue. He is an effective listener and people feel heard, even if he might not agree with you,” the survey results said.

Other strengths of the district include increases in student achievement, high expectations for staff and students, and options and choices for students at all levels.

Challenges include a statewide budget shortfall, and “cuts in the budget will be likely in the future.”

Other challenges include the possibility of a high school built in East Helena, crowding at certain schools, inadequate resources for special education and a need for more programs for students who won’t be attending a four-year college.

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