FERGUSON, Mo. — The Ferguson-Florissant School District's search for a new superintendent began long before the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
But the district's approach in selecting its next leader suggests that event nearly six months ago and the unrest that followed remains very much at the forefront. School officials say they're keenly aware that community members remain skeptical of public officials.
Bucking the preferred approach by many school systems — including public universities — in Missouri and beyond, the district has announced the names and qualifications of two finalists: Bryan Davis of Columbus, Wisconsin, and Joseph Davis of Plymouth, North Carolina.
The two men —one white, one black — will meet Friday with district employees, community leaders, students and parents at three different events. Those come after a news conference and a community forum Thursday night.
The new leader will replace Art McCoy, whose suspension and later resignation in March 2014 led to angry protests and criticism.
The north St. Louis County district also faces an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over its at-large voting system, which the group says violates the federal Voting Rights Act. The elected school board has only one black representative among its seven members; roughly 80 percent of the district's students are black.
"Transparency has always been very important," board president Rob Chabot said. "The superintendent is often the face and voice of any school district."
Chabot noted that the finalists in the previous search also met the community in advance. But such early notice of the names of finalists is the exception rather than the rule, said Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association.
"Most of the time, school boards would keep finalists confidential," Ghan said.
As with corporate searches, school districts usually prefer to err on the side of caution, Ghan said, fearful that an open search could scare away qualified candidates who don't want their current employers to know about their seeking new opportunities elsewhere.
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