SD1 board grapples with strategy to replace supt.

Following a second closed door executive session this past week, the Big Horn County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees continues to strategize about how they will replace departing school superintendent Shon Hocker.

According to board chair Koleen Sponsel, as of this week the trustees were still working on a strategy to replace Hocker that will best serve the continuing needs of the district.

“We are looking at what our options are and trying to figure out the best route at this point,” said Sponsel. “We hope soon to have some clear direction soon.”

Sponsel said the board will most likely discuss their strategy again at their monthly board meeting tonight (Thursday) in Burlington. She said most of the discussion will likely be closed to the public in an executive session, since it involves personnel matters.

Sponsel said one option on the table would be to appoint an interim superintendent. She said the individual could be selected from a pool of potential candidates in-house or from the outside. Appointing an interim superintendent would buy the district time to conduct an extensive search for the best possible candidate, which could take some time.

“This isn’t the best time to make a search like this,” explained Sponsel. “Most (potential candidates) have already signed contracts with other districts.”

Sponsel said she was confident that the board will have a strategy in place soon, noting that it is an important position that will require much deliberation before being filled and Hocker leaves some big shoes to fill. He has been superintendent for District One for 11 years, managing six schools that educate more than 1,000 students. As superintendent for the district he has overseen the construction of several major school improvement projects, including the building of Rocky Mountain Middle/High School and the remodeling of the district’s administration building. In 2016, he was recognized as the Wyoming Superintendent of the Year.

“Generally speaking, superintendents usually only stay for about five years,” said Sponsel. “We are very fortunate to have had Shon for 11 years and wish him well. Shon has innovative ideas. He is always looking at national trends and ways to improve education for our students. He and his family have been great members of our community and we really hate to see them go.”

Hocker and family will be moving to North Dakota, where he will head the Dickinson school district in a city with a population of 30,000 residents. His new district is much larger than SD1 with 4,000 students. The district currently includes five elementary schools, with a new school slated to open in the fall. It has a middle school with a student population of about 1,000 and a separate high school serving another 1,000 students. He said the larger district will provide him with new challenges, and he accepted the position because he felt it was a good move professionally. 

Hocker said he hopes the district will continue on the same path set forth in its five-year strategic plan, which is to create a high reliability school through personalization. He said one of the biggest challenges the district faces is moving from good to great.

“We’re already doing pretty well, so it’s hard to make changes that could make us even better,” he said. “I think the district is moving in the right direction and needs to continue to be forward thinking, setting high goals.”

Sponsel said she doesn’t expect finding a replacement for Hocker to be a fast decision.

“We will definitely take our time with this. It is a huge decision and we want to do what’s right for our students and best for the district,” she said.

By Patti Carpenter