Interim Superintendent Joe Yochum doesn’t plan to rock the boat as he leads the state’s largest school district through a transition and until a permanent successor is named.
“I don’t have any big changes in mind — we have several things in the process now we will need to have some oversight of and see through to completion,” Yochum said. “I think of my job simply as serving as a caretakerer and seeing things done that I can.”
Yochum, a 24-year veteran of the West Ada School District, held the position of chief operations officer until trustees appointed him interim superintendent Oct. 29. He told trustees before accepting the interim role that he would do so only if he could return to the chief operations officer position once a full-time superintendent is named.
After growing up in the Midwest and attending high school in Oregon, Yochum earned his English communications degree from Boise State University and began teaching freshman English in 1992 at Centennial High School. He spent 6.5 years as a classroom teacher, and then became an assistant principal and then principal at Lowell Scott Middle School.
“Making a difference was the prime motivator (to get into teaching and education),” Yochum said. “I have educators in my family — aunts and uncles — and I often talked with them about the ability to make a positive impact. The benefit to society was a big motivator.”
Yochum succeeds former Superintendent Linda Clark, who announced her resignation Oct. 23. But on Monday, West Ada trustees voted not to accept Clark’s resignation, and to instead terminate her, effective immediately.
Trustee Russell Joki said the move was made to protect the district’s legal interests and to allow Clark to begin collecting retirement and unemployment benefits. Joki said Clark was still being paid through Monday, and her attorney contacted the board saying Clark needed a resolution to begin collecting benefits.
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Board members had not previously accepted Clark’s resignation.
“(As for) the decision to terminate, we had grounds for that and the grounds were the manner in which she left her job,” Joki said Tuesday. “Without prior notice to us, she walked off the job and that is cause for termination of anyone’s employment.”
Joki and Yochum have known each other for a decade or more, dating to when Joki was one of Yochum’s teachers when Yochum was working on his education specialist degree at the University of Idaho’s local campus.
Joki remembers Yochum as a meticulous student whose attention to detail was one of his strengths.
“He was a very analytical student, and when I followed his work at Lowell Scott, I saw the same thing,” Joki said. “He was always prepared and he reacted well to any situation that come up.”
Those qualities came to mind when Joki voted in favor of appointing Yochum interim superintendent last month.
“(Yochum) is shaping the interim role as he is working in it,” Joki said. “We did not give him a set of expectations other than empowering him with the full responsibility and full authority of the superintendent. We did not tell him ‘Do this or do that.’ ”
After just his third full day as interim superintendent, Yochum saw the district clear its first hurdle under his watch. On Nov. 3, West Ada voters approved a two-year, $28 million supplemental levy. Yochum said passage ensures the district will be able to move forward for the next two years without having to reduce positions or instructional days. He called the levy’s passage “huge” news for the district.
But, that same night, voters rejected a $12 million Meridian Library bond issue that would have allowed library officials to build a joint-use library serving the new Hillsdale Elementary, which is being constructed near the intersection of Eagle and Amity roads.
The bond’s failure means the district must proceed without the library’s help, at least for now. But Yochum said Hillsdale is still on track to open in August 2016 as planned. When the school was designed, architects produced two plans using the same school footprint — one partnership plan including the joint-use Meridian Library and one standalone plan without it. District officials will now move forward with the standalone plan, and will convert space that could have been used for two classrooms into the school’s library, Yochum said.
“We did plan for this possibility,’” he said.
Ideas for attendance boundaries to Hillsdale Elementary are expected to go before the school board Jan. 26. Meanwhile, crews will move ahead with remodeling work at Meridian High School and construction will begin next year on the new Star Middle School, slated to open in 2018.
Finally, Yochum, Joki and other board members are beginning the process of looking for a permanent superintendent to lead the district.
Last week, district employees completed surveys outlining the leadership skills, values, experience qualifications and credentials they thought the next superintendent should possess. Those survey results were delivered to trustees Monday, and similar surveys will be distributed to the public soon, Joki said.
District leaders have not yet scheduled public forums to discuss the search and hiring process, but Joki said he supports staging a public meeting as early as this month.
It was not immediately clear how the search will play out or when a new candidate could be named, but Joki said he opposes hiring a search consultant firm to conduct a national interview process. Joki has been an owner of a consulting firm that placed superintendents in Idaho previously, and estimated a national search could cost the district $20,000-$30,000.
“My hope, as one trustee, is we find someone who knows Idaho, knows the situation in West Ada and can step in as our superintendent without a steep learning curve or having to get acquainted with Idaho school finance,” Joki said.
Yochum has said he is willing to serve as interim superintendent throughout the search process.