The new superintendent for Faribault’s Minnesota State Academies for the deaf and blind will be deaf.
The MSA School Board chose, by 6-0 vote, to offer the position of superintendent to Terry Wilding after the search and interview process concluded Monday night with Wilding’s interview. Wilding was one of two deaf candidates, along with Bradley Porche.
The third finalist candidate, Nicole Musolf, a hearing candidate, dropped out of the running earlier Monday after multiple members of the deaf academy community rallied last week, calling for a superintendent connected to deaf culture and education. According to interim Superintendent Robert Stepaniak, Musolf’s decision to drop out was likely influenced by the pressure from that rally.
Wilding, who has vast experience in deaf education but much less in blind education, will be responsible for leading both MSAD and MSAB. That was a point Board Chair Jan Bailey, who is blind herself, emphasized when noting she felt Bradley Porche was the better option. Bailey chose to abstain from the vote on offering the position to Wilding.
“I feel Mr. Porche did a better job of ensuring there would be equity between the two schools, so I did feel more comfortable with him,” she said.
That wasn’t the only reason she favored Porche. During the discussion of the remaining two candidates, Bailey noted there was a lawsuit filed against Wilding’s old school, New Mexico School for the Deaf, involving an instance of rape against a 15-year-old female by a 19-year-old male at the school.
“I was disappointed that when we asked the question about litigation this candidate was not more forthcoming,” she said. “I find this disturbing, because we have vulnerable students.”
Board member Sonny Wasilowski noted the instance took place seven years ago, and Wilding is still employed as principal at the school. He also said that he felt Bailey was “baiting” the candidate with the question about litigation.
Wasilowski was in favor of Wilding as the top choice, although, like most others on the board, he felt both choices were very strong. He said he favored Wilding, because of his focus on the future.
“Terry is the only candidate of the three who several times talked about long-term planning,” Wasilowski said. “That’s something we don’t have. We don’t have a 5-year strategic plan.”
Wasilowski was joined by Todd Sesker, Joan Breslin-Larson and Chris Peper in ranking Wilding as the top choice. Gary Lazarz, who will end his time on the board June 30, had the two candidates tied. Nicole Halabi ranked Porche ahead of Wilding, but felt both candidates were strong and agreed to the majority decision.
Wilding will be offered the job, contingent on him attaining a Minnesota superintendent license (his current license in New Mexico is not valid here). The Minnesota Board of School Administrators will vote June 13 whether to grant him a variance, which would allow him to take the position, while earning his license over the next few years.
MSA was searching for a new superintendent to lead both the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) after former Superintendent Brad Harper resigned in December. Harper did not provide a reason for his resignation at the time, but a group of MSAD-affiliated ralliers, who were asking for a new leader with ties to the deaf community, said on their Facebook page (MSA Superintendent Rally) that Harper was not meeting the standards of many parents and staff.
The rally-goers called for the hiring of either Porche or Wilding – both deaf candidates. They felt the other candidate, Nicole Musolf, lacked the experience with deaf and blind communities necessary for the job at MSA.
Interim MSA Superintendent Robert Stepaniak said he had a hard time agreeing with the notion that not being connected to either the deaf or blind communities should disqualify a candidate for the MSA position.
“Whoever takes over has to manage both individual schools and the overall academies,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to support a claim that it has to be a deaf superintendent. [The School Board] wants a person with the right leadership skills and experiences.”
The board will host a regular meeting Thursday and may have the opportunity to finalize the hiring of Wilding then.