Spotsylvania School Board votes on superintendent search firm

by | Mar 26, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Spotsylvania

The Spotsylvania County School Board made two pivotal decisions during a special meeting Monday night, voting to officially name Kelly Guempel acting superintendent and hiring consulting firm BWP & Associates to lead the search for a full-time division chief. 

Guempel began serving as the interim superintendent once Mark Taylor was placed on administrative leave in January. Taylor was fired with cause earlier this month and was officially dismissed last week. 

At the end of the closed session, Guempel said he is excited to continue in the role and urged community members to attend the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors public hearing on the fiscal year 2025 budget Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Courtland High School to advocate for more school funding. 

Board members Lisa Phelps and April Gillespie walked out of the meeting while Guempel was speaking.  

Phelps was the sole vote against Guempel’s appointment, which was approved 6-1. Phelps then abstained from the vote to approve a contract for Guempel, which was discussed in closed session. 

Phelps also made substitute motions to approve McPherson & Jacobson, LLC and the Virginia School Board Association as consulting firms instead of BWP & Associates, which is based in Libertyville, Ill. 

Both of Phelps’ substitute motions failed. 

BWP & Associates asserts on its website that it conducted more than 800 “successful executive searches.” Its history states that the firm was formed from the merger of Harold Webb Associates, PNR Associates and the Bickert Group, Ltd.  

“Our associates are dedicated professionals who have combined the very best practices from three strong search firms to offer our clients collective expertise and connections throughout the country,” the website declares. 

Gillespie expressed dismay that the board could have saved $30,000 by using the same firm that was involved in the controversial hiring of Taylor. Taylor was hired and later signed a contract for $245,000 per year without any experience working in public education. 

First-year board member Belen Rodas said the additional cost for a new search firm is money well spent if it means the board and the community get a fresh start. 

“I think the most important thing we can do is rebuild trust within our schools,” Rodas said. 

Gillespie refuted any notion that the school division needs to rebuild trust, saying that the previous board worked just as hard as the current board and that any issues are a “manufactured crisis.” 

She accused Chair Lorita Daniels of making “backhanded” statements about the previous board, which included two members who did not run for reelection and another who was defeated in the November election. 

“I keep hearing people say, ‘Rebuild trust, fix it, do better than the past two years,’” Gillespie said. “There really is no trust to rebuild. The trust that is broken is a manufactured problem. It’s really not something that happened.” 

Gillespie said the task before the board to hire a superintendent is “very daunting.” 

Other board members said they are excited about taking the next steps in the process of hiring a full-time superintendent, calling the decision a critical one for the school system. 

Cole said hiring a search firm that is transparent and puts the students first will inspire confidence in the community. 

“We’re going to be asking for your input, feedback and involvement,” Cole said to community members. “We need you to show up and have your voice heard so we can include that in our decision-making … Our division deserves a qualified superintendent who is excited to serve all of our students regardless of race, background, gender or capabilities. I look forward to getting to that point.” 

The board scheduled special meetings for April 3 and April 15. It has a regular meeting on April 8. A board retreat is scheduled for April 24.  

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