This interview with Allison Garner, president of the Oshkosh Board of Education, was conducted by Lauren Freund, a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What were your initial reactions to Superintendent Stan Mack’s retirement announcement?
A: I’d known it was coming. I had known he was going to leave the board in four to six years. I wasn’t surprised. But you asked what I did feel not what I didn’t. I felt gratitude that we got him and sadness that he’s leaving. And thankfulness for his contributions.
Q: What has been the hardest thing about finding a new superintendent?
A: You know, I think the fact that there’s not a lot of them. It’s a small industry, and all the great superintendents are taken and they’re doing great at their districts. It would be wrong to lure them away from a district so finding them is going to be the toughest part.
Q: Mack originally was going to retire in December. What were you feeling when it was getting closer and cutting it close to the deadline?
A: I felt rushed–there was a level of anxiety. It was almost this frantic pace that made everyone on edge almost.
Q: Other than their specialization in leadership services, why did you choose Ray & Associates over other companies like them?
A: Well, we did phone interviews. Each of the board members had two districts, and we called personals and spoke to them. We did a lot of reference checks–we spoke to a district in Kansas. We had six identical questions to ask, and from there we whittled it down to two and we interviewed them in person. And Ray & Associates interviewed very, very well. They matched everything that was said about them.
Q: When found, how do you think the new superintendent will work with the current board members? Will he or she be able to transition in smoothly?
A: There’s three of us that need to decide to run again, but the board works really well with each other. So, it will be easy when they transition, and I think it will be really smooth.
Q: Do you think the new superintendent will bring something new to the school board and district?
A: That’s our hope. We’re all teachers and board administrators, all thinking, ‘How come we can’t move the needle?’ What we’re looking for is someone that is willing to try things. We’re not looking for someone to fix it all. We did ask for candidates with experience in not just in public education. We’re looking for someone who is willing to think differently that we have been.
Q: Other than thinking differently and trying new things, what else do you hope the new superintendent will bring?
A: That’s a good question. I really want this new superintendent, in like five to 10 years out, to have helped us to grow, so we’re able to reach higher. I want this superintendent to aim higher and [to be]someone who has great leadership skills.
Q: Do you think he or she will continue the positive path that Mack has started?
A: Yeah, I think what Mack has accomplished is bringing the community to a whole. They trust us. They back us and want the best for us. The new one can’t mess that up, but they can make it better. They’ll have to be good relationships. Mack always cares, truly. He knows what’s going on. He’s everywhere. He honestly cares. And the next superintendent has to continue that work.
Q: Are you closer to finding a candidate than before you hired Ray & Associates?
A: Well, yeah, yes. We’ll see what happens. We had to hire Ray to do the administration part. The board is still going to do its part. Ray is just to help. We’re going out and searching for candidates, going over resumes. We’re not letting Ray do all the work.
Q: Last question. What do you hope for superintendent Mack after he officially retires?
A: I hope he can find a way to be fulfilled in his retirement.
Photo: Allison Garner at the Nov. 15 meeting of the board of education, via Oshkosh Media.