MISHAWAKA - Just a day after announcing their superintendent's anticipated resignation, the Mishawaka school board has named a candidate to replace him.
Holly Parks, president of the School City of Mishawaka board, announced on Wednesday that Theodore Stevens, current superintendent of South Central Community Schools in Union Mills, is the board's preferred pick to fill the shoes of outgoing superintendent Wayne Barker.
Mishawaka announced Barker's likely departure in a press release Tuesday afternoon. Barker is expected to be named superintendent next month of Northwest Allen County Schools, where he started his career as a teacher. Northwest Allen County Schools, in Fort Wayne, posted a draft superintendent contract to its website on Wednesday.
Superintendent to resign: What we know about Barker's plans to leave Mishawaka
The board's announcement of a presumptive superintendent candidate signals a rapid response, and draws upon a familiar name, to replace Barker. Parks said in a news release Tuesday that the outgoing superintendent, "made us aware of this possibility nearly two and half weeks ago."
"It was a shock." Parks told The Tribune in an interview Wednesday. "But I think in the same token that everything happens for a reason."
Stevens is no stranger to the School City of Mishawaka. He worked for the district in varying administrative roles from 2013 to the time he accepted his current position as superintendent of South Central schools in 2018.
Stevens first served as principal of LaSalle Elementary before moving to the district's administration central, where he worked as a director of assessment, high ability programs and technology before becoming assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
School leaders say Stevens helped the district draft its technology plan several years ago, which they say was "a major component" of the corporation's successful $25.6 million referendum in 2016.
South Central in rural LaPorte County enrolls about 930 students between a preK-6 grade elementary school and a 7-12 grade junior-senior high school. By comparison, Mishawaka enrolls more than 5,100 students across its high school, middle school and seven elementary schools.
"(Stevens) was a principal for two years at LaSalle, which is one the most difficult - as far as quantity of students, it's one of the largest schools that we have," Parks said. "He understands our community in which we serve. He has incredible rapport with teachers and staff, as well as students. His professionalism is bar none. We're very excited to have him back."
An unexpected departure
The Fort Wayne district has been looking for a superintendent since at least March when its then-superintendent announced plans to extend a medical leave into retirement.
A Mishawaka spokeswoman said in a news release Tuesday that Barker anticipates resigning his current position on June 8 with an effective date of June 30.
Mishawaka's school board hired Barker, then superintendent of Bluffton-Harrison schools in eastern Indiana, in mid-2019 after a yearlong search to replace the district's retiring superintendent, Dean Speicher.
At that time, the school board opted to invite a select number of superintendents to interview for the district's top job rather than conduct a broad search. Bruce Stahly, Mishawaka's former assistant superintendent for business services, assisted in that process, The Tribune reported in 2019.
Parks and fellow school trustees William Pemberton and Amanda Roberts were serving on the board when Barker was selected as Mishawaka's next leader. Parks said she learned through that process what the district needs in a superintendent.
Barker - who saw the district through its response to COVID-19 and was heading up planning efforts for a likely referendum campaign in 2023 - was hired on a three-year contract in 2019 and agreed to a one-year extension of his contract last summer.
Parks said she expects the board and superintendent will agree to a mutual termination of the contract with no buy-outs or payments anticipated to break the agreement.
Interviewing and hiring
Barker's plan to leave Mishawaka after three years came as a surprise to many, including the school board president.
"It was a complete surprise to all of us," Parks said. "I think he liked it at School City. I really do. I think there's a lot weighing on him to go back to where he came from."
She said she quickly consulted with past superintendents about next steps in the hiring process after speaking with Barker. Rather than launch a lengthy national search, Parks said, finding someone with a close knowledge of Mishawaka schools was a priority.
"We knew right away that this is something that we wanted to move forward on," Parks said. "We're looking at a referendum in 2023. If we're upside down without a superintendent or an interim in place - I just want the Mishawaka community to understand that we're all-in and we're going to go the difference and that they don't need to feel worried or insecure that the school system doesn't have control."
The board invited two candidates - Stevens along with one internal candidate - to interview for the opening. She declined to say who the internal candidate was, but offered that "she was an incredible candidate."
"We knew both of them very well. We knew both of them could pick up and start leading right away. We knew both of them had experience with the referendum. And, we knew both of them were going to be capable of being the superintendent," Parks said. "It really came down to who had the best vision, really, who was going to get us there and be the leader that we needed."
Mishawaka school board members met several times in executive session late last week to discuss personnel matters. Parks said these meetings were called to interview and deliberate prospective superintendent candidates. She said the board came together unanimously in its support of Stevens.
Although Mishawaka trustees doesn't expect to receive Barker's resignation until their June 8 school board meeting, the district has set a fast-paced schedule to move forward with plans to hire its next superintendent.
By state law, school boards must follow a series of steps in publicizing and taking public comment for superintendent contracts. The board has announced the following timeline for its superintendent transition:
May 22: Publication of proposed superintendent contract on district website
2 p.m. June 2: Public school board meeting to receive input on proposed contract
6 p.m. June 8: Public school board meeting to accept Barker's resignation
2 p.m. June 9: Special public board meeting to vote on superintendent contract
If a contract is approved, Stevens' first day as superintendent of Mishawaka schools will be July 1.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Mishawaka announces superintendent candidate, next steps in hiring