Stutzman named new schools chief

By Sarah Pridgeon

The Board of Trustees has announced the new superintendent of the Crook County School District in a decision that was unanimously agreed upon by the board, representatives from the staff, members of the public, a specially convened Superintendent’s Council and the children attending the schools. Byron Stutzman of Buhl, Idaho will begin his tenure in July.

Born and raised in Buhl, Stutzman graduated in 1977 and farmed for 20 years, during which time he served for six years as a trustee for the Buhl School District. He graduated from Idaho State University in 1999 with a BS in Elementary Education, Reading Specialist, in 2002 with a Masters in Education Administration and again in 2009 as an Educational Specialist in Education Administration.

“I taught 6th Grade from the fall of 1999 to the spring of 2002, was principal at Buhl Middle School to the spring of 2009 and superintendent of Buhl School District from the summer of 2009 until now,” he says.

An outdoorsman with a love of activities ranging from hunting and fishing to skiing, running and tennis, Stutzman has been married for 28 years. His wife, Heidi, is an athlete who has run 14 marathons and won awards including the Pacific Northwest Ski Association Cup and the USTA National Telemark championship.

“I try to run with my wife, but she is usually miles ahead,” he says.

The couple has one 24-year-old daughter, Eva, who graduated from Buhl and then Boston University with dual degrees in Political Science and Broadcast Journalism and is currently employed as a Human Resource Director at Lowes.

“Stutzman’s philosophy is that all kids can learn and it takes caring and loving adults to make that happen,” says Chairman Tracy Jones. “He believes kids are ‘sheltered’ too much these days and that they learn more from their failures than most people give them credit for.”

The decision to select Stutzman from among the final three candidates was, says the board, a community effort. For the first time, representatives from across the district were involved in the day-long interviews.

“This was definitely a community effort and it would have been much harder to achieve without that input,” says Trustee Bud Williamson.

“We had a lot of people interested in the process and it was very important to me to hear the comments from the other staff, the teachers and the admin team, and to feel like we were all on the same page,” agrees Trustee Dena Mills. “I think that says a lot about the continuity of the district.”

The board, she explains, conducted their own interview with each candidate before discussing the input from other involved parties and including it in their decision-making.

“What’s exciting is that we made this decision as a district,” she adds. “As a board we very much listened to the input. It was really important to get that feedback and to feel that the board was doing what was right for the whole district.”

A great deal of time was spent after every interview looking at comments from the meet-and-greet, the Superintendent’s Council and the principals and administrative staff, says Trustee Josie Pearson. At first, the decision was not unanimous.

“But I think, as a board, that’s one of the things we’re trying to do,” she comments. “To make sure that everybody is heard, that we’re listening to what the staff and the stakeholders are telling us and making the best decision for the best fit.”

The interview process was largely the brainchild of Interim Superintendent Jeff Carrier, who set the schedule and ensured it was adhered to. Carrier, explains Pearson, took the candidates to each school, where he passed them over to the principals.

“I thought the process and the way everything was handled was very well thought out,” says Trustee Wayne Jordan. “The schedule of getting them around the schools, organizing the Superintendent’s Council and the meet-and-greets – I was very pleased how the information came together in the end.”

The board had a distinct set of criteria when selecting the candidates for the final stages and gathering information during the interviews. Among those criteria, says Jones, were trustworthiness and the ability to spend district money efficiently and wisely.

“The first thing we were looking for was someone who had experience,” says Trustee Keith Haiar. “That probably drove the initial selection of who we were going to interview and then it came down personality, temperament and overarching educational philosophy.”

The board, Haiar explains, wanted a superintendent who met with the district’s current needs.

“After what we went through last year, we wanted very high integrity and moral character,” he says. “In that vein, we asked several questions about how they would interact with both the staff and the public and it was those answers that mattered. Did they have a plan? Did they feel comfortable in those sorts of communications? The three candidates had met the threshold as far as being qualified, it was then about the second tier. We got to pick the cream of the crop.”

The equity between the final applicants, adds Vice Chairman Ken Rathbun, put the board very close to the best possible situation, in which a bad choice was impossible no matter which of the candidates was picked.

“We had multiple very qualified candidates and that was good for us, though it made our decision in the end harder,” he says. “I still feel that we could have made other decisions and not gone wrong. It’s far easier to have an obvious choice, but the board can truly speak as one that we support the decision we made and we think it’s the best one we could have made under the difficult circumstances to find somebody to take us forward.”

Each candidate was asked a specific set of question in their applications, says Trustee Steve Blakeman. Choosing between them was a matter of going through those questions, identifying both the integrity the board was looking for and the ability to handle tough situations such as those the district has faced over the last year or two.

“He was exactly what we were looking for, and what I was looking for personally,” he says. “He really impressed us and it was nice to hear him say that there are a lot of things we’re doing right in this district that he just wants to add to and be part of. I think he’s going to be a great fit.”

The board also listened to each candidate to develop a feel for how each worked with his board and in his district, as well as the expectations he has from his staff and students, says Pearson. “This gentleman is very involved with all of that – we’re excited.”

The final piece of the puzzle was the reaction of the children themselves, concludes Mills.

“The kids loved him. We went to Hulett and the kindergarteners ran up and were hugging him. He just said, hey, this is the best part of my job. I think the character of the man will speak well for us.”