When Payson School Board members began searching earlier this year for a replacement for retiring school superintendent Russ Kinzer, their description of his ideal replacement read something like:
"Candidate is a seasoned administrator with a strong background in curriculum development and consensus building. Staff-motivation skills and communication savvy a plus."
Herb Weissenfels of Yuma, one of five finalists for the position, fit the bill perfectly, board president Kristi Ford said.
"We had set certain priorities, and his background and experience seemed to fit hand and glove with our needs," Ford said. "We were just tickled to have found him."
Weissenfels, who was hired under a three-year contract, will start work in Payson July 1 with a salary of $80,000 a year.
The 57-year-old will be leaving the Yuma Union High School District, where he has worked as the superintendent of curriculum instruction for two years.
"We feel he has the skills to keep the district moving forward, and that's what we need right now," Ford said. "He has excellent curriculum skills and excellent administrative skills.
"He's a collaborator, he's a motivator and he knows how to bring out the best in people. I'm very excited to have him in the district."
Weissenfels taught math, science and physical education for 16 years in Colorado and New Mexico before working as a high school principal in Colorado and Kansas for nine years.
He then worked as a school superintendent in Tribune, Kan. for two years, as a superintendent for the Bisbee Unified School District for seven years and as assistant superintendent in Yuma for two years.
"He's always one of the first people in the office and one of the last people to leave," said Don Ross, who worked with Weissenfels in Bisbee and later replaced him as superintendent.
"His strengths are organization, people skills and curriculum development," Ross said. "His overall management style was good for the district, and he made some real strides in the overall educational quality for Bisbee students.
"You always knew where you stood with Herb. I enjoyed working with him."
'My door is open to anybody'
In an interview Wednesday, Herbert Weissenfels, who has been hired as the new superintendent for the Payson Unified School District, discussed his management style, education philosophy and future goals.
Q: Why do you think Payson's school board members thought you were the best person for the job?
A: I think one of the things they were looking for was a background in curriculum development. That's my position now in Yuma -- superintendent of curriculum instruction. And I also think they were looking for experience.
Q: What are the most important curriculum improvements you've made in Yuma?
A: One of the biggest things we've done is revamped our math curriculum. We're moving toward an integrated math program instead of breaking algebra and geometry out into separate disciplines. We're melding them together to teach them in a way that students will likely use them in real life.
Q: Describe your management style.
A: I guess participatory is the best term to use. I like to get the people who are going to be affected by change involved in the decision to make the change happen.
Q: How do you do that?
A: Usually it's a matter of identifying the need for change, then identifying those people who will be affected by the change and then getting them involved and getting their input.
A lot of it involves communication, and sometimes it involves people other than staff and teachers. Depending on the situation, we could involve parents and students as well.
Q: What will be your first order of business?
A: One of our challenges will be increased communication with the public -- the parents, the press, everyone who's involved with the schools, and even those who aren't.
I would imagine that we'll develop an administrative cabinet that will meet regularly to discuss the issues we're facing, and I'll be stressing that each building should be doing a good job of getting information out about all the things we're doing. That's one aspect.
Another aspect will be to develop a highly articulated and consistent curriculum for K-12. Part of that is getting it on paper, but we also need to be able to assess how we're doing with it. We need to hold ourselves accountable and make sure the job is getting done.
Q: How would you characterize your management style when you're working with teachers?
A: I believe the focal point of any school system has to be the kids. As a result, I tend to turn the paradigm around so that the people who deal directly with the kids are considered the most important.
That's primarily the teachers, but they can't do their best jobs unless the rooms are clean and the kids are brought to school on time. Our job as administrators is to do everything we can do to make sure the teachers are free to do what they do best -- teach the kids.
Q: What are your goals for next year?
A: I hope to get around to every classroom in the first year. I made 155 classroom visits around four campuses this year. It's a good way to learn about the teachers, and most of the time they enjoy having you come because you care enough to see what they're doing.
Q: What legacy do you think you're leaving behind for the parents, students and teachers in Yuma?
A: I'm hoping that more parents feel more involved with the schools in a meaningful way. We try to listen to them and keep them involved.
Parents need to stay involved in their children's lives until (the children) leave home. So often, parents abdicate their responsibilities as parents too early in a child's life. Parenting is a really tough job, but I encourage parents to stay involved in their children's lives and their education.
Q: Any last words?
A: I've always had a very open door policy. My door is open to anybody -- parents, teachers, students, custodians -- anyone who has constructive things to say about how we educate our children.
Meet the new superintendent
The Payson School District is hosting an open house today (Friday) from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Payson High School's Wilson Dome to introduce the district's new superintendent, Herb Weissenfels, to the public.
Weissenfels is currently the assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction for the Yuma Union High School District. He will begin his duties in Payson July 1.