Pocatello hires superintendent

POCATELLO — The search for a new superintendent for the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District ended this week with the promotion of one of its own.

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Doug Howell

Doug Howell, the district’s director of human resources, will become interim superintendent effective July 1. He was given a two-year contract. Howell replaces superintendent Mary Vagner, who is retiring after some 45 years as an educator or school administrator.

Vagner, who is in her ninth year as Pocatello’s superintendent, announced her retirement in October.

“The district is in great shape,” Vagner said. “Doug knows our district, has worked extensively with all our directors, he knows our staff and the community. He will do a great job continuing the leadership in this district and working with the board.”

Vagner and Howell will spend the next several months revising the district’s strategic plan and prepping for the change in leadership. Howell doesn’t anticipate any major changes after he takes over.

“I really like what our district is doing now,” he said. “There are some great things going on and a lot of district’s surrounding us look to us for guidance … we’ve got a great foundation to build on our accomplishments.”

The school board spent the past three months searching for Vagner’s replacement. The position was advertised nationally, but of the six candidates that applied, only two were from out-of-state.

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The board had narrowed the candidate list to three finalists: Randy Jensen, principal of Williams Thomas Middle School in American Falls and former Republican candidate for state superintendent; Glen Szymoniak, former superintendent of the McCall-Donnelly School District; and Joel Wilson, superintendent at the Preston School District, and the former superintendent in Aberdeen.

Ultimately, the board rejected all three finalists and the trustees agreed to extend the search.

Board chairwoman Janie Gebhardt said there was concern none of the candidates had experience with districts as large as Pocatello/Chubbuck.

“It was important that all of the board be in agreement with who we chose and we weren’t altogether with these candidates,” Gebhardt said. “Some of the candidates were quite good … but none had experience with a district of our size.”

The board looked internally and realized Howell had nearly all of the educational qualifications to become a superintendent. He was appointed interim superintendent because he still needs some additionally training before he can take the post on a more permanent basis.

Gebhardt expects Howell will complete his remaining qualifications this summer. The board is interested in making the position permanent, but Gebhardt said the decision will be up to Howell.

“I think there will be opportunities for the board and me to talk about (a permanent position),” Howell said. “We’ll have to see how this is working out for me.”

East Idaho Reporter Nate Sunderland can be reached at [email protected]