The District 200 Board of Education has settled on a search firm to help find its next superintendent – the next question is whether their superintendent finalists will be revealed to the public.

At a special meeting last Thursday, the board reached a consensus, but took no vote, on School Exec Connect, a national search and consulting firm based in Highland Park. The board expects to approve its contract this month, pending further discussions with the firm.

The issue of confidentiality came up at last week’s meeting. Members generally agreed that the candidate pool should not be made public, but there was disagreement on whether to make the finalists public. They briefly discussed having a “stakeholder committee” vet candidates and finalists, but doing so out of the public eye.

In the previous superintendent search from late 2006 into early ’07, the finalists were made public. Each one also met the community in an open forum and took part in a Q&A. The high school used the same method when it hired a permanent principal in 2008. Members in favor of keeping the finalists secret argued that prospective candidates working as administrators elsewhere might not come forward.

“The best people out there will not put themselves out there,” said board member Amy McCormack. “I firmly believe that this needs to be a confidential process until we get down to the final candidate, and that’s because we want someone who’s in basically excellent standing in their current position. In this economic climate when people can’t sell a house and that sort of thing, it’s very important that they maintain their current job. That can be more important than anything, and if they believe that they may be jeopardizing that by becoming a candidate, they’re not going to choose to be a candidate.”

Board member Terry Finnegan agreed, saying, “In looking at these firms I want as wide a pool as possible because I want people to be able to come in to this process and know that they do have confidentially. It’s very important to me, and I think that we’ll get a better candidacy pool if they know they’ll have confidentiality.”

Oak Park and River Forest High School Principal Nate Rouse recalled difficulty at his former school when it came out that he was looking elsewhere.

“It does change the perception people have of you in their building when they find out that you’re looking,” said Rouse, a former assistant principal at Highland Park High School. “It worked out for me, but it was difficult when people realized, gosh, this guy is really looking at moving on.”

But board member Sharon Patchak-Layman insisted that the finalists be made public.

“One of the problems with the closed [process] is that there is a lot of shifting around of superintendents within the state of Illinois. If you go and look at who’s been placed, there’s a domino-effect. And you need to have everything quiet to do that, because if everything is out in the open you can’t have this kind of shifting around. So, a candidate that comes before us can also be going to three or four other districts and I think that is wrong. I think when you get to the final selection that you need to come forward and say, ‘Yes, I’m interested in this job and I want this job; I’m not doing it behind closed doors.'”

The board agreed to continue its discussion on openness at a special meeting tentatively scheduled for Monday, Nov. 30.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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