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Brandywine School District’s Superintendent announces retirement; succession plan faces pushback

Brandywine School District Superintendent Lincoln Hohler is retiring July 1st - and the district’s school board appears to be moving quickly to replace him with a candidate from within the district.

After accepting Hohler’s resignation, the board voted 4-3 to approve a motion to nominate district employee 24-111 to take his place after some heated debate.

Board member Shawn Jegede was among the three opposing the move.

She says the district needs to go through a transparent process where all key stakeholders have a voice.

“Our teachers are the most important people in our schools in terms of being on the ground, knowing what our students need, knowing what education practices work, knowing what's necessary not only in their building leadership, but in district leadership,” she said.

This district is not unfamiliar in that type of hiring process.

In 2020, after Mark Holodick left the superintendent position, the Brandywine School District hosted multiple public forums seeking community input on a new candidate, and conducted an open search.

But when COVID hit, Hohler was appointed to the official role.

“When Superintendent Hohler was previously appointed, that was for a specific season. I think we would all agree that that time was an exception and should not be the standard,” said board member Shanika Dickerson, who also voted against the nomination.

Board President John Skrobot has a different opinion.

He argues hiring from within makes sense in the wake of the community support seen in Brandywine’s overwhelming referendum victory.

“We are in a post-COVID world and education is still trying to undo the damage. We are on a positive trajectory recovering from learning loss. And that recovery is due largely in part from the work of our admin team and listening to teacher voices. And that recovery is due largely in part from the work of our admin team and listening to teacher voices,” said Skrobot.

The district employee who received the nomination for the district’s top job is a current member of the senior leadership team.

Board member Ralph Ackerman also cites the referendum as evidence to support an internal hire.

He says a failed referendum may have caused him to look elsewhere for a candidate, but a successful one means taxpayers are happy with their current team.

“I have never seen a stronger senior leadership team in our district than the senior leadership team that sits there now,” said Ackerman. “And maybe people didn’t come out to the referendum to vote for the senior leadership team, but at the end of the day they worked day and night to get that referendum passed.”

Outside of being Vice President of the BSD School Board, Jason Heller is an Operations Manager. He’s viewing this nomination from a business perspective.

He says in any other industry or sector where there is a qualified internal candidate, it would be unusual to look elsewhere.

“And I just can't imagine us going into another school year with a change, and that kind of upset or turmoil, and how much time it would take for an outside candidate to get up to speed and to rebuild the momentum we’re at,” said Heller.

Board member Kim Stock doesn’t think a school can be compared to a business.

“I think one of the mistakes that people make from the outside is that schools should be run like businesses. Schools are not businesses,” said Stock. “And I think it’s important to understand that schools are unique organisms with growing and changing dynamics because we serve kids. And because of that, yes we can look at some business practices of course. But schools should never be run as a business.”

Stock, Jegede, and Dickerson - the three board members who voted against the motion to nominate an internal candidate - all noted that their qualms were not with the candidate themself, but with process.

“I think our students deserve an honest, transparent, and inclusive process for the highest position in our district,” said Dickerson.

District officials say the nomination, and the candidate's identity, are expected to be revisited next month following contract negotiations.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.