Prince William County Schools Excellence and Equity in Education Conference

Prince William County Schools Superintendent Steven Walts is retiring after 15 years.

 The Prince William County School Board could announce the school division’s new superintendent as soon as March 2021, according to a timeline laid out by the search firm hired to recruit candidates to take over for Superintendent Steven Walts, who will retire June 30.

The school board is expected to pay B.W.P and Associates, based in Libertyville, Illinois, about $51,500 to launch a five-month search for the next superintendent. The process will begin this month with an online survey of students, parents, staff and local residents as well as series of stakeholders meetings to be held from Nov. 30 though Dec. 3.

During a recent school board work session, E. Wayne Harris and Kevin Castner, two retired Virginia school administrators working with B.W.P. and Associates, described a four-stage, nationwide search process that would begin with an effort to seek community input on the qualities and skills Prince William County schools’ next leader must possess.

Harris is a retired school division administrator with Fairfax County schools, and Castner spent 11 years as the superintendent of Roanoke City Schools.

Board OKs confidential search

During the work session, the school board voted to conduct a fully confidential search, meaning that all candidates’ names would be kept secret except for that of the person who accepts the job.

“If you want to attract the strongest possible pool, then going for a confidential search will enable you to do that,” Castner said.

The two said the search would have a nationwide reach to attract candidates capable of leading the 35th largest school division in the U.S. There are more than 18,000 school divisions across the U.S., but the average size is about 4,000 students, they said.

Still, the job is expected to attract a large number of candidates because of the size, location, diversity and stable funding accorded Prince William County schools, located in the relatively wealthy Northern Virginia area.

“We are not going to have any trouble attracting excellent candidates,” Castner said. “What we need are candidates who fit the match,” Castner said, adding: “We want to give you four to six candidates who are going to give you the hard job of choosing among them.”

The two also said the school division should expect to offer a “nationally competitive salary” commensurate with leading one of the nation’s largest school divisions. Walts’ current salary, they said, could be considered “on the very high end” of the range the school division should expect to offer since Walts has been with the division for 15 years. 

Walts makes about $435,000 in annual salary and benefits, an amount that includes a base salary of about $316,000, a supplemental benefit of about $29,000, a car allowance of $12,000, a gas allowance of about $1,500 and an annual contribution to his retirement account, according to his most recent contract.

School Board Chairman Babur Lateef said the board was committed to conducting a thorough and wide-reaching search for a new leader.

“Outside of reopening our schools, this is the most important thing we will do as a school board probably in our careers here,” Lateef said.

Search process

Castner and Harris said they will hold a series of community meetings between Monday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 to talk with students, staff and “stakeholder groups” about the school division’s strengths and challenges. Prince William County has about 89,000 students enrolled and about 100 school buildings and centers.

Castner said the two envision holding up to 50 meetings, both in-person and via Zoom, over three or four days to hear feedback from about 200 to 300 people. The pair said they expect another 1,500 to 2,000 people to respond to an online survey, which should be available on the school division’s website later this month.

Student feedback will be compiled and presented separately so school board members can understand how their feedback differs from that of staff, parents and other adults’ points of view, Castner said.

The two will then compile the data in a report for the school board as well as a “leadership profile” describing the best possible candidates, Castner said.

Recruiting efforts, which are already under way via online advertisements, would wrap up on Jan. 27 to allow B.W.P and Associates enough time to assess and “fully vet” possible candidates, Castner told the school board.

By the end of February, the firm hopes to present four to six finalists to the school board to interview, Castner said.

Reach Jill Palermo at jpalermo@fauquier.com

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