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School Board interviews first finalist for superintendent

BY NORA HEATON | APRIL 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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For the first time in more than a decade, someone other than Lane Plugge sat in the superintendent’s chair in the Iowa City School Board’s chambers.

Mark Bezek, the first of three finalists for the role of superintendent for Iowa City schools, interviewed publicly with the School Board on Tuesday evening.

On numerous occasions during a brief meet-and-greet with the community, a public statement, and a formal interview, Bezek called Iowa City a “mirror image” of the Elk River School District, where he has been superintendent for four years. He said the two are similar in terms of students and operating budget.

School Board members asked Bezek questions ranging in subject from budget plans to his smiley-face tie. But several questions addressed diversity and related achievement gaps within the district.

“We’ve got all the resources in, and we’ve got all the teachers in,” School Board member Sarah Swisher said. “But we’re really looking for that extra spark.”

Bezek said district employees should be proactive, because failing to address issues early can lead to bigger problems.

“You can’t wait for people to come to you,” Bezek told the board, adding at his current district some employees occasionally make home visits to students who are struggling. “The earlier you get to the kids and families, the better.”

The Iowa City position opened in January when Plugge announced he would resign to fill a similar one in the Green Hills Area Education Agency in western Iowa. Plugge has been superintendent of the Iowa City School District for 11 years.

The new superintendent will come into the district as officials face several challenges, including making school boundary changes and addressing recent budget cuts.

Bezek was also one of five final candidates who interviewed for a superintendent position in Bismarck, Minn., last week. After the interviews, the board decided not to hire any of the candidates and to reopen applications, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Bezek also interviewed as a superintendent finalist in St. Paul, Minn., in 2009.

“I think Dr. Bezek addressed the community needs and also addressed the desire of all School Board members to elevate our district both academically and facility-wise,” said School Board member Tuyet Dorau.

Royceann Porter, founder of the community group Youth Empowered to Serve, attended the interview Tuesday and plans to attend those with the other candidates later this week.

“I don’t have an opinion yet,” Porter said. “I would like to see all three. You can talk that talk, but you gotta walk the walk.”

The board will conduct two more public interviews for the position.

Stephen Murley of Wausau, Wis., will interview Wednesday at 6:15 p.m., and Brad Meeks of Farmington, Minn., will interview at the same time on Thursday. Both interviews will be at the Central Administrative Office, 509 S. Dubuque St.

After completing the interviews, the School Board will discuss the candidates in a closed session on Sunday before announcing a final decision.


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