FHSD Chief Academic Officer to Assume Superintendent Position Upon Sloan’s Retirement

The district administration office fills with excitement and cheer as Dr. Mary Hendricks-Harris is announced as superintendent starting in the 2016-17 school year.

By Chase Meyer, Webmaster

Updated: Feb. 5, 2016 at 12:51 a.m.

It’s 5:45 p.m. The district administration office–usually quiet and dim by this time of night–is bustling and bright on this early-February evening. Doors are open, and Superintendent Pam Sloan stands in the lobby of the building to greet visitors including community members, students and district employees. Instead of budget issues, curriculums or extracurricular activities at stake tonight, only one subject stands in the spotlight.

Who will be the next superintendent?”

As stakeholders file into the boardroom, Sloan follows. Laughing and conversing with fellow colleagues and friends, she knows tonight will be one of her last nights attending a Board meeting while in a position of power. Announcing her retirement in mid-Sept., 2015, the FHSD Board of Education conducted an extensive national search for someone who will fill what some would consider a large gap in the district.

As an anxious hush falls over the crowd which is spilling out the door, Board president Mark Lafata takes to the podium situated in the front of the room where Sloan and her district administrators would normally sit.

“We spent many hours behind closed doors,” Lafata said, breaking the silence. “This is a very important decision for the Board. We took our time and we involved as many people as we could. We wanted this to be our decision. This is our school district, and the people who pay the taxes and the stakeholders should be involved.”

The multi-month search involved dozens of staff members, students and community members who care about the future of the district. Holding almost-weekly public forums at each of the three high schools, the Board and third-party consulting firm McPherson Jacobson searched for what the public wanted in a new leader for the district.

Narrowing down to three final candidates out of 20 completed applications, the Board reached an agreement on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Lafata takes a moment to thank all of the interviewers that took part in the process.

“We had three very good finalists, however one rose to the top,” Lafata continued. “It was very clear to the Board when we began looking at the candidates which candidate could lead Francis Howell for the next–hopefully–20 years.”

Concluding his introduction, with head nods from many Board members, the president went on to announce the candidate who had been chose to fill the superintendent’s shoes: Dr. Mary Hendricks-Harris. At the meeting, a three-year contract was approved for Hendricks-Harris to serve the FHSD. Slightly choked-up, the newly-named superintendent took to the stand to address the district.

“Francis Howell really is a great place to work and to learn,” Hendricks-Harris said. “As we begin our transition, I want to recognize the work of Dr. Sloan.”

She goes on to acknowledge Sloan for “raising the bar” and creating “high expectations” for her to live up to. Sloan’s selfless dedication to the district, as Hendricks-Harris describes it, had not gone unnoticed.

“On a personal note, I would like to thank her for her support and mentorship throughout the years,” she goes on to say.

Hendricks-Harris doesn’t stay on the subject too long, and goes on to recognize the financial difficulties the district has faced over its recent history. She establishes her belief in the community, stating that she’s confident members will come together to overcome the money woes that have become such a controversial issue to many St. Charles County residents. Supporters of her superintendency applaud the fact that Hendricks-Harris has been involved in many of the recent district issues, and knows what the community has been going through to solve the problems.

Posing for a group photo, district administrators and Hendricks-Harris get the chance to mingle among themselves and community members. Many gather in the lobby around a table hosting fruit punch and lip-staining cupcakes. Among the approximately 100 people gathered, not a word of negativity can be heard–a welcomed change for many in the district as they celebrate the rising of a new leader.

“I’m really glad the Board decided to stay in the district with their candidate,” Barnwell history teacher Bev Lofton said. “[Hendricks-Harris] is really dedicated to the district and has put in a lot of time and effort and I’m super glad she’s been chosen.”

Alyssa Savage

As the new superintendent mingles among the crowd, she talks about what her initial reaction was to announcement. Though she was aware of the decision a week prior to the meeting, she showed gratitude to the Board for selecting her.

“I’m just excited and honored,” Hendricks-Harris said. “It’s very humbling to know that of all the people who could run for superintendent, that I was selected.”

Jumping into the position right away, though, is not an option. Hendricks-Harris will be working closely with Sloan to transition into her role. With a new five-year strategic plan needing to be drafted and approved soon, the new leader will be at the head of that project while receiving some feedback from Sloan.

“I love to work with different groups of people,” she said. “So being able to go out and talk about where we’re going to go with the plan is one of the biggest things that brought me to apply.”

While Hendricks-Harris continues to walk around the boardroom, shaking hands and talking with new and old faces, Sloan stands with a small group of parents in the lobby, thanking them for attending and emphasizing how much she has enjoyed serving them.

“I am ecstatic that she was selected,” Sloan said, regarding Hendricks-Harris. “She’s a smart, bright and beautiful person and she understands the direction we’re going along with the work we’re doing. It’ll be an easy transition.”

The soon-to-be retired superintendent goes on to say that she enjoyed her 23-year-long career in the FHSD as a teacher, building administrator, district administrator and through her six-year tenure in her current role. To see the district evolve into one of the top districts in the state, along with being named one of STLtoday.com’s top big workplaces of 2013 are events that she will be able to carry with her into retirement, knowing that something had been done under her direction.

“Seeing our students and staff move up and become successful is really one of the best parts of being superintendent,” Sloan recalls. “Being around the kids, their teachers and my colleagues is one of the most reward experiences that I won’t soon forget.”

Upon retirement, Sloan plans to build a stronger relationship with her son and seven-month-old grandchild who live in Chicago. She looks forward to the flexibility to do more of what she pleases and getting away from the long weeks administrators work to make sure a district that covers 150 square miles (⅕ of St. Charles County) operates smoothly and successfully each day.

“I can go up to Chicago now and stay as long as I want,” Sloan giggles. “Until they kick me out.”

Hendricks-Harris will officially assume the position of superintendent on July 1, 2016.

Original Post: Feb. 4, 2016 at 5:07 p.m.

After the September announcement by Pam Sloan of her retirement at the end of the 2015-16 school year, the Francis Howell School District has taken a meticulous approach to finding her replacement. Following many public forums, a search by a third-party hiring agency and interviews in front of District stakeholders, the candidate who will follow in Pam Sloan’s footsteps will be announced tonight at the Board of Education Meeting.

The Board of Education will meet at the District administration office located at 4545 Central School Road, St. Charles, MO. A livestream of the event will be provided by the Francis Howell Central High School publications program and can be viewed below.