The Southwest Licking school board wants as much input as possible as it conducts its search for a new superintendent, board vice president Cindy Zaino said.

The Southwest Licking school board wants as much input as possible as it conducts its search for a new superintendent, board vice president Cindy Zaino said.

In fact, she said, board members feel so strongly about not influencing public comments that none will attend a community focus group at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, at Watkins Memorial High School auditorium. All community members are invited.

The board contracted with the Ohio School Boards Association to assist with its search for a new school superintendent after Superintendent Forest Yocum announced that he will retire July 31, the final day of his contract. He made the announcement at the end of the Dec. 15 board meeting.

"We want everyone to have an open conversation," Zaino said.

She said board members were concerned that their presence at the community forum might influence what people had to say, so they decided not to participate. Instead, Ohio School Boards Association consultant Richard Caster will host the forum.

"We're looking for everybody to give their opinions," Zaino said. "We want an absolute open floor."

She said the ultimate goal from the forums the district plans to hold is for all "stakeholders" in the district to share what they expect from a Southwest Licking superintendent.

The superintendent's secretary, Shawn Toy, said Caster will meet with community leaders ahead of the April 18 public meeting, from 5 to 7 p.m. Other focus group forums have yet to be scheduled.

Zaino said the public would have other opportunities to relay their opinions at future forums. She also said an online survey soon would be available on the district's website.

"The online survey will be taken equally as important as the focus groups," she said.

Caster said he will ask questions of the people who attend the April 18 community forum.

"What does the new superintendent need to bring to the table?" he said.

Caster agreed with Zaino that the forum's goal is to collect as much public input as possible. He said other forums will involve specific groups, such as community leaders or school district staff members.

Zaino said that on the average, school superintendents stay at the same position for a couple of years. She said Southwest Licking board members hope to find a new superintendent who is willing to make a long-term commitment. Yocum was hired on May 30, 2002, with his official first day of work being Aug. 1, 2002.

"The superintendent is the most important position," Zaino said.

She said that eventually, everyone with an interest in the district has contact with the superintendent.

"We're all in this (search) together," she said.