MARQUETTE - The last two candidates interviewed Tuesday by the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services board of education both said they have strong backgrounds that could help them succeed as the agency's newest superintendent.
The board interviewed Robert Nardi, MARESA Associate Superintendent of Finance, Information Systems and Quality Assurance Services, and Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Shawn Thornton. The board interviewed its third candidate - Marquette Area Public Schools Superintendent Deb Veiht - Monday evening.
All three candidates to fill retiring Superintendent Steve Peffers position were asked the same set of questions concerning public relations, budget issues, grant funding and leadership style.
A self-professed "proud Yooper" and an 11-year veteran in his current position at MARESA, Nardi said he did some "soul searching" when deciding whether to apply for the superintendent position.
He said he saw the job as a "personal challenge" and felt ready to "step up and challenge" himself. Nardi also said, if hired, the job of MARESA superintendent would likely be his last.
Nardi presented the board with a one-year superintendent plan, outlining what he'd like to do in his first year as the agency's top administrator.
Coming from a long history in financial work, Nardi said he would provide the agency with a strong understanding of budgetary issues and would think creatively about finding new, innovative ways to fund MARESA.
"The rope is stretched pretty thin," Nardi said of current funding options.
Nardi said he was involved in bringing to MARESA more than $7 million in annual fiscal agent grants during the last five years.
He also cited his work in helping negotiate a new severance tax levied on mining operations, offering it as an example of effective collaboration, something the board included in its description of the job.
When asked whether someone with limited experience in education could serve as an effective superintendent, Nardi said he had a good "grasp of a lot of the educational field" and that someone with a strong educational or financial background could fill the position.
"I don't think one is better than the other, but I think both could do the job," he said.
Thornton, who hails from downstate Alcona County, is the superintendent of Alcona Community Schools, a rural district stretched out over 400 square miles.
With more than two decades in educational administration, Thornton said she has a long history of thinking outside the box to cut the budget without sacrificing student learning.
She cited several examples of working with other districts to help consolidate services, save money and provide the same educational experience to her students.
Thornton said she has been involved in bringing in more than $1 million in grant funding to her district, including writing a grant for an elementary school health clinic, one of the first of its kind in the state.
She also said she works regularly with her community, local businesses and human services agencies to see how they can work together to improve education in her district.
Thornton cited curriculum and instruction as her top educational strengths, and said she is a collaborative leader that is still "not afraid to draw a line in the sand" when needed.
Thornton said she believes in being a strong advocate for education, and would involve herself in the local community in that capacity.
"You can't do that silently," she said, adding that she would work hard to get MARESA's name out in the public eye.
Coming from a rural area with limited funding, Thornton said she understands "what it's like to battle for resources," and that she was "the exact kind of person" the agency needed to lead it forward.
The MARESA board has scheduled a special meeting for 7:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss the candidates. The meeting will be in the MARESA administration building at 321 E. Ohio St. in Marquette.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.