Nearly 40 community members turned out Friday night to meet the four contenders for the Fairfield Area School District’s superintendent spot.
The candidates shared their backgrounds, qualifications, and passions for education with the audience after a day of touring the district where they met administrators and staff.
Fairfield Area School District (FASD) Superintendent Karen Kugler, who has led the district since 2015, announced her decision earlier this year to retire in October.
In June, the district started the superintendent search process with Tom Templeton of Templeton Advantage of Newport, Pa. at a cost not to exceed $11,000. The funds for the consulting service were included in the 2018-19 budget.
Templeton, who has assisted in more than 100 previous superintendent searches, narrowed down the search to four applicants – all located throughout Pennsylvania and with approximately 20 years of experience or more in education.
The candidates included: Michael Adamek, assistant superintendent at Susquehanna Township School District; Dr. Chris Suppo, coordinator of technology, transportation, and community relations at Greensburg Salem School District; Dr. Erik Bentzel, superintendent of Northern Lebanon School District; and Dr. Wade Hunt, middle school principal at Bermudian Springs School District.
After the meeting Friday, Templeton said the school board must review all the feedback received from administration, staff, and the community before deciding who is the right fit for Fairfield. He was not sure when a decision will be made, despite Kugler’s imminent departure.
Each candidate was interviewed separately by community members in the auditorium Friday night.
All started their educational careers as classroom teachers with experiences in both rural and urban school districts. Most expressed an interest in Fairfield because of the rural setting in Adams County.
‘A good steward’
When Adamek, who became assistant superintendent at his district in 2018, saw the opportunity at Fairfield, he said it reminded him of where he grew up. He is originally from Dillsburg and now resides in Chambersburg.
Aside from more than two decades of education experience, Adamek said he also has a business background and knows how to be “a good steward” of taxpayers’ money.
Adamek believes being active in the community is an important task in the superintendent’s role, joining the local Lion’s Club and Rotary organization are how to stay connected, he said.
He said, if selected, he would like to start a community-based committee that meets monthly to get feedback from parents and other stakeholders.
“My staff thinks I do too many surveys,” Adamek said. “I am taking a guess of what people want to happen. Taking a guess is not the way to run a building.”
‘A nontraditional student’
Suppo, currently employed in Westmoreland County, traveled the farthest for the foum, about three hours.
“My family would be looking to relocate. I’d be looking to immerse into the community. As a superintendent leadership role, it is important to be a part of the community,” said Suppo, who has 27 years of education experience.
Suppo said there is “no ceiling” for how involved the community should be in the schools.
“The more partnerships we can create, the better schools we can have,” he said.
Suppo called himself “a nontraditional student” because he did not go directly to college after graduating high school. He opted to go to technical school first and eventually went on to become a technology education teacher.
Even with the technology background, Suppo said he does not want to “push technology” into the classroom.
“I’m looking for the best way to teach kids. I’m not the technologist. I don’t think it’s the end all be all,” Suppo said.
However, there are skills students need to know for using technology to be successful in their future career paths, according to Suppo.
‘A better fit’
Bentzel thinks Fairfield will be “a better fit for me.”
Bentzel said he already submitted his resignation at Northern Lebanon School District, which is effective at the end of this school year. He started as superintendent in 2017.
In his 19 years of education, he lost the excitement he had going to work earlier this summer due to communication issues with his school board, he said.
The school board gave Bentzel a “to-do” list that he spent most of his time focusing on in the first year, he said. He was “so engrained in fixing the problems” that it took away from the time he needed to build relationships with the board members, according to Bentzel.
Bentzel said he tried fixing the relationships, but there were nine other people supposedly unwilling to do so.
Some community members said they appreciated Bentzel’s honesty and how open he was about his situation.
“I want to be a taxpayer, a parent, and an employee” of FASD, Bentzel said, indicating he wants to be a part of the community.
“You can never have enough community involvement,” Bentzel said.
Hunt, in his 25th year of education, said he is “very child-centered,” which is a perspective that has not left him since he started as a teacher. He has been a principal at Bermudian Springs Middle School since 2008.
“I do believe I am completely capable and qualified,” Hunt said of the superintendent’s position.
One of Hunt’s biggest achievements was seeing a unique program come to fruition under his leadership, he said. He assisted in the creation and implementation of a new class known as the “Passion Project,” after many discussions with staff and students. The course allows students to “explore their passions” in eighth grade, he said.
After a computer teacher retired, they added another course which leads up to the “Passion Project,” a foundational design class, teaching students “how to think creatively,” according to Hunt.
“I’m very proud of the succession we have created,” Hunt said.