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Woman who sought Lorain Schools CEO job shares process


LORAIN — One of the 37 applicants for the Lorain Schools CEO position isn’t happy with the way the interview process went, she told Academic Distress Commission members in an email Thursday.

According to the email, Diane Conibear-Xander, a former principal at Admiral King High School and Lorain High School, said she was approached to throw her hat in the ring for the position by commission Chairman Tony Richardson on June 13.

The district is seeking a CEO, whom the state is expected to pay an annual salary of $150,000 to $250,000, after failing test scores and poor state report card grades caused it to be classified by the state as under academic distress in 2013.

State House Bill 70, passed in 2015, says that if a district is in academic distress and under the supervision of an academic distress commission for four years, the old commission will be disbanded and a new one will be appointed to hire a CEO.

In the email, Conibear-Xander said she submitted her application for the position, “considering the serious implications involved with the responsibilities and undertaking of the CEO position,” on June 23.

Conibear-Xander, who could not be reached for additional comment Friday, wrote she then received an email from Leroy Nunery, the senior strategic adviser with Atlantic Research Partners, the firm hired by the commission at a $25,000 price tag to narrow the field of applicants to three to five finalists.

“In Dr. Nunery’s email correspondence to me, he indicated we were on a very fast track, and asked that I get back with him as soon as possible,” Conibear-Xander’s email said. “Dr. Nunery also noted that the interview would be approximately 60 minutes and (Atlantic Research Partners President) Jim Hager would also be present for the initial interview.”

Conibear-Xander said she replied to Nunery that evening with a potential date and time for the interview, which he failed to respond to, causing her to send a follow-up email six days later.

After sending the follow-up email July 3, Conibear-Xander said Nunery emailed her July 4 and agreed to a July 11 interview.

“The interview lasted 26 minutes and Dr. Jim Hager was not present,” the email said. “The one and only (26 minutes) interview was conducted with Dr. Nunery and myself. I can recall 3-4 questions asked to me. The questions appeared to be unscripted and Dr. Nunery came across as being disorganized and condescending at times during our discussion. It was evident he did not know about my professional qualifications, background or experiences prior to the interview. … While I believe I did a thorough and exceptional job responding to the questions, I felt the interview was completely superficial and insincere.”

Conibear-Xander said in the email that she wanted to share her experience with the commission because she felt she had “an ethical responsibility” to do so.

In a Thursday email response to Conibear-Xander, Nunery said he felt her “comments about the interview and the process are neither accurate nor reflective of the dialogue” and offered to have a discussion with her about the selection process.

The selection process has caused controversy this week after the five finalists were announced Sunday.

Members of the school board and the community have criticized the commission for turning the search and finalist selection over to Atlantic Research Partners, which has professional ties to four of the five finalists.

Concerns also were raised when the district’s current superintendent, Jeff Graham, was not named as a finalist despite applying for the position.

Richardson has said the CEO will be selected in the coming days from the five finalists previously announced.

Graham and Conibear-Xander are the only applicants that are known to the public outside of the five finalists. Hager contends Atlantic Research Partners is not subject to release the applications of those who were not finalists because it is a private firm.

At a Thursday meeting, the Lorain school board indicated it plans to take a more aggressive approach with the state on the issue of House Bill 70 as Tim Williams stepped down as board president, with Tony Dimacchia filling his place and Mark Ballard becoming vice president.

The board also removed its pick from the Academic Distress Commission, Dorinda Hall, with Williams saying “the nature of the commission wasn’t an atmosphere of policy so much as it was politics, and there’s a different set of skills needed to navigate that.”

Lorain High School social studies teacher and department head Steve Cawthon was selected to replace her.

The Academic Distress Commission is expected to have its next meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in the media center of Building A at Lorain High School, 2600 Ashland Ave.

Contact Katie Nix at 329-7129 or knix@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @KatieHNix.

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