By Sue Moore
The interview room was crackling with anticipation as the Vicksburg School Board convened in May to question its internal candidate for school superintendent, Keevin O’Neill, to replace outgoing Supt. Charlie Glaes.
Over the last 65 years the board has gone outside the school district only twice to select a superintendent. Board members aspired to select from within the district, according to Skip Knowles, board president. This year was no exception; trustees have had their eye on O’Neill, the high school principal, for eight years as the preferred candidate.
Knowles told O’Neill, “We are looking for a long-term relationship with our superintendent. We want that person to be the voice for education in the community.”
O’Neill did not disappoint. He read from a prepared statement and then took questions from board members, handling each with humor and directness, Knowles observed. At the end of the Q & A, the vote came down with lightning speed, 7-0 to promote from within.
O’Neill came to Vicksburg 17 years ago as assistant principal. “My next step in growing as a leader has been to become a superintendent,” he told the board. “I’m prepared to do so as I’ve learned from some of the best leaders in the state by attending the Michigan Association of School Administrators Leadership Institute and Navigate Leadership Program the last three years.”
When questioned about his strengths and weaknesses, O’Neill responded that he is a hard worker, always on time, and a strong communicator. “I think I’m real and relate well to others. My weakness may be in that I want to be perfect and yet I’m a risk taker. I want to be out in front of everything.”
O’Neill was asked what his priorities would be if the school was handed two million dollars as a one-time gift. “I would put the money in people. Invest and build your people. It’s what makes a school district great. If the people feel valued they will perform well.
“We have talented thinkers, writers and readers. I would embed rigor into programs we have while focusing on raising the bar. I would put everything on the table including summer education. There is a burn out factor if classes go year-round. Kids get tired so we would have to evaluate each program and ask ourselves are we getting the product we want? It’s about evaluation: See what’s working here and elsewhere and then decide [direction].”
“Career and technical training are in a monster paradigm shift. Seven out of 10 jobs are in technical fields that don’t require a four-year college degree these days. How do we have these conversations with parents? It comes down to what’s best for kids in the end,” O’Neill said.
“The Vicksburg community is a supportive family that doesn’t get in the way of achievement. We have a talented staff with awesome teachers. This is my home and I want our education system to be the very best,” he said. “I’m a life-long learner but learning is about failing along the way. I’m ready for this opportunity and hope to continue to grow what we have that is so positive.”