The Southwest Licking Board of Education on May 23 hired Robert Jennell as superintendent.

The Southwest Licking Board of Education on May 23 hired Robert Jennell as superintendent.

Jennell has been superintendent of Columbus Grove Local Schools, a small district north of Lima, since 2005.

"He emerged from a very strong field of candidates," board President Don Huber said.

The board interviewed five candidates before narrowing the field to two finalists: Jennell and James Sotlar, assistant superintendent and current interim superintendent of the Pickerington Local School District.

Huber said Jennell stood out from the others because he was thorough in the way he answered the board's questions. He said Jennell is ambitious about making improvements to the district.

Huber said under Jennell's leadership, Columbus Grove has received several state and national awards, most recently being named one of the best schools in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The school district currently is completing a $32.4-million building project in partnership with the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission. Huber said he expects Jennell to bring the ability to complete projects to Southwest Licking.

Jennell said he's taking the position with an open mind.

"Coming in with an agenda of any type is inappropriate," he said during a public meeting at the district office gymnasium May 23. "The best thing to bring in is a fresh perspective."

Jennell said his plan is to listen to staff, students, parents and residents to tell him what they want for the district.

"It's a little too early to say we'll be doing this, this or that," he said.

Jennell said he'll listen to everyone's input and formulate ideas from there.

Treasurer Richard Jones said Jennell will earn $130,000 in annual salary, which is $2,000 per year less than retiring superintendent Forest Yocum.

In addition, Jennell's benefits package will be significantly less than Yocum's, he said.

Jones said Jennell's total compensation, including benefits, will be $196,000 per year. He said Yocum's total compensation, including benefits, was $245,000 per year. The difference is that under Yocum's contract, 100 percent of his retirement contributions and medical benefits were paid by the district; Jennell's contract, like the new contracts for other district administrators, stipulates that the district will pay only portions of his retirement and medical benefits.

Jennell begins his three-year contract Aug. 1.

"I'm looking forward to working with him," Jones said.

Board member Cindy Zaino said she was impressed with Jennell's approachability and positive attitude

"I think it will lend itself well to Southwest Licking," she said.

Zaino said either of the final two candidates would have done a fine job, but Jennell's open-door policy and enthusiasm to help the district with its strategic plan gave him an edge. She said she also liked that Jennell is so willing to listen to everyone's ideas.

Zaino said Jennell had a proven track record at Columbus Grove, which was rated "Excellent with Distinction" on the most recent state report card prepared by the Ohio Department of Education.

"For him to leave something so wonderful says a lot about our district," she said.