REEDSPORT -- Fifty-two residents and others turned out Friday night to ask the three superintendent finalists questions ranging from their thoughts on the school week to whether they'd actually live in the district.
This process now leads closer to the end of a several months long effort to replace part-time Superintendent Dan Forbess.
The new top administrator will work full time.
Residents, who consisted primarily of school district staff sprinkled with some retirees, a few parents and some students, listened as finalists Bret Uptmor, Susan Penrod and Jon Zwemke made their case as to why the board should hire them as the next superintendent.
Oregon School Boards Association employee Steve Kelley has been a significant part of the process in the last number of months.
The three candidates toured the district office, Highland Elementary and Reedsport Community Charter School, meeting with employees Friday afternoon. In a whirlwind, marathon Friday, they also had dinner with the school board.
Community members and others asked questions via note cards of each finalist. Kelley brought Uptmor, Penrod and Zwemke in individually to face the audience.
Uptmor came up first to the stage area. He was asked to list three words to describe his leadership philosophy and why those terms. He chose honest, friendly and open.
"We're dealing with kids' lives," Uptmor said, adding that there's a "ripple effect" on children and parents.
"I will never ever try to hurt somebody," Uptmor said. "It is not going to be a screaming match."
The finalist was also asked what about the Reedsport district appeals to him.
"One, its size," he said. "I don't like a large district."
Plus he said Reedsport has a pretty good arrangement with Highland's using kindergarten through sixth grade and placing the seventh- through 12th-graders at RCCS.
"In fact I wonder why large districts don't do what we do here and copy it because it works well," Uptmor noted.
As for Penrod, she said "it's important to involve everybody."
"I'm a listener. A leader can't lead until they listen first," the finalist said.
All three were asked about fiscal management and how best to handle this at Reedsport.
"Well I think we'll work together collaboratively," Penrod said, adding that "wise fiscal management is good oversight."
She said "your current superintendent and your board have done (well) working on this."
Educational philosophy came up repeatedly throughout the evening.
For example in Penrod's presentation, she said as a hypothetical example of any child, "this student needs my support."
"I want to be in the schools and I want to know everyone," she said.
By comparison, candidate Zwemke tried to highlight why he thought he was the best choice.
For his employees, "I trust them to do their work."
He believes people are good by nature and that when a district hires it needs to hire the best.
"Manage the exceptions," he said.
Zwemke said it's critical to have veterans on board for finances. Otherwise if there's turnover every single year "we're going to miss things."
There was some levity in the meet and greet session.
For example, candidates were asked if they plan to live in the district.
Kelley would read a question from an audience member's card.
"Yes," Zwemke said, looking over at Kelley. "That's all you need on that one?"
Audience members laughed.
As Forbess is technically retired and can only work so many hours per year, he's prohibited from applying for the full-time position.
School board members looked at several states, although in their press release they didn't list which ones. The new employee starts July 1, 2018.
Uptmor, Penrod and Zwemke came from an original pool of 15 applicants.
Earlier in the process, board members and a 13-member screening committee reviewed applications. That committee consisted of administrators, staff and residents.
Penrod works in the Eugene 4J School District as the K-12 curriculum administrator.
Previously she was the principal of Spring Creek Elementary in the same school district. Before working in the Eugene school district Penrod was an elementary teacher and administrator in the Sherwood school district for six years.
By comparison, Zwemke serves as the current high school principal in the Central Linn school district. He has worked for Central Linn since 2010.
Additionally, he worked in the Gervais, Ontario and Pilot Rock school districts as a district administrator, middle school principal and secondary teacher for a total of 12 years.
Uptmor has worked since July 2011 as the superintendent of the Wallowa school district in eastern Oregon.
Before becoming a superintendent, Uptmor worked in the Ontario school district for nearly 20 years in a variety of roles from an automotive technology teacher to principal of the local high school.