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LPS school board names four finalists for superintendent

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Lincoln East

Students pass between classes and lunch on Tuesday at Lincoln East High School.

And then there were four.

The Lincoln Public Schools Board of Education named finalists in its search for a new superintendent at Tuesday night's board meeting, marking another key step in the process to find Steve Joel's replacement.

Four candidates out of 20 applicants made the final cut: 

* Antwan Wilson, an assistant professor of education at Nebraska Wesleyan University and chief executive officer of Schoolwise Educational Consulting. 

* Jami Jo Thompson, superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools.

* Paul Gausman, superintendent for Sioux City Community Schools in Iowa.

* Peter Licata, a regional superintendent of the Palm Beach County school district in Boca Raton, Florida.

Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the Illinois-based superintendent consulting firm heading up the district's search, presented the shortlist of candidates to board members Tuesday. The slate is based off recommendations from the search firm, but board members ultimately had the final say on who made the cut.

"It's a great slate," board president Connie Duncan told the Journal Star. "We're very impressed with all of them. They all bring great characteristics to the community." 

It's the latest step in a search process that kicked off after Joel, 67, announced in September that he will retire after the end of the school year after more than 11 years at LPS.

LPS began accepting applications in November, followed by public forums, an online survey and meetings with various focus groups -- such as students, teachers and parents -- to gauge community feedback.

That input then was summarized in a 22-page leadership profile report -- essentially a road map for finding the ideal candidate -- presented to the board at its Jan. 11 meeting. 

The board will interview the four finalists on Feb. 1 and Feb. 4 and each candidate will meet with students, staff, parents and community members.

The public also is invited to hear from each candidate at public town halls Feb. 1 and Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at LPS district office, which will also be livestreamed. There will be no public comment at the meetings, but an online survey will be available.

Wilson, a Lincoln native, is a graduate of Lincoln High and previously served as the superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District in California. In 2017, he became the chancellor of the 48,000-student school system in Washington, D.C., but was forced to resign after a little more than a year amid controversy over the district's competitive school lottery process.

The controversy came after it was learned that Wilson's daughter was improperly transferred to one of the district's top-achieving public schools over other students on a wait list, violating a policy he put in place. Wilson later said he'd told an official about the transfer months before his resignation, which the official denied.

Wilson taught in Lincoln, North Carolina and Kansas and also served as a middle school principal in Wichita and high school principal and assistant superintendent in Denver. 

In 2018, he became CEO of Schoolwise Education Consulting, which supports school leaders.

Wilson has also served on a number of LPS committees, including the district's community multicultural advisory task force and multicultural parent advisory committee.

He earned his bachelor's in history and social science education from Nebraska Wesleyan and his master's in school leadership from Friends University in Wichita. Wilson is a doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary leadership at Creighton University.

Thompson, another candidate with Nebraska ties, previously worked for Beatrice Public Schools as a special education teacher, staff development coordinator and director of student programs before becoming the Norfolk superintendent in 2013.

She earned her bachelor's in special education and master's and doctorate in administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Gausman, who became the head of Sioux City schools in 2008, also has ties to the Cornhusker State. The Fremont native was previously a finalist for the superintendent job at Omaha Public Schools and also served as the superintendent of the West Central School District in Hartford, South Dakota.

He graduated from UNL with a bachelor's in music education and earned his master's in administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He received his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Licata is the lone finalist selected from outside the Midwest. The native of South Florida served as superintendent of the Palm Beach County school district's South Region, which serves 65,000 students. He was previously a teacher, principal, curriculum director and assistant superintendent in Florida.

Licata earned his bachelor's in business administration from the University of Miami, a master's in educational leadership from Barry University in Miami and a doctorate in global leadership from Lynn University in Boca Raton.

Mike Richie, a consultant with the search firm, said 27 candidates initially applied, but only 20 completed the necessary paperwork. 

While he said he is pleased with that number, he acknowledged that there is a shortage of superintendent candidates nationally with hundreds of school districts competing for them. 

"We do feel we have a good slate to propose to you tonight," Richie told the board.

Duncan said each of the seven members of the board got an opportunity to review the candidate pool and ask questions of the search firm before the recommendation was made. 

"I feel confident that we did our due diligence," she said.

The board expects to name a new superintendent at its Feb. 22 meeting.

Superintendent profile report outlines ideal candidate for LPS job
Diverse recruitment, teacher burnout among challenges next LPS superintendent will have to face, community members say
Lincoln school board members defend superintendent search process amid concerns over consulting firm

Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack

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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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