The search for a new superintendent at Oak Park and River Forest High School is beginning. And the school board is contemplating a critical issue in how the search will be conducted: openness.

We encourage a process that actively involves the public, in its various component parts, in the search. That’s what this community expects. Public input can be a boon to the board in evaluating candidates. And, actually, we think it can be healthy and clarifying help to potential superintendents.

As we’ve noted, perhaps too many times, the last search process undertaken by the District 200 school board was botched. It was rushed by political considerations. It was hampered by unexpected defections of finalists. And it resulted in the eventual hire, Dr. Attila Weninger, arriving in a cloud of doubts.

The active openness of that process was not the source of the resulting challenges. We, in fact, felt that the various stakeholders who took part in public forums for each finalist added to the discussion. Vetting of candidates by constituents and the local press was healthy and helpful.

Traditionally, searches have been actively concealed, held close by board intent on top-down control. Often, we’ve been told that secrecy is essential if good candidates are to apply. We reject that notion out of hand and suggest that the real candidates, as opposed to job hoppers and leverage seekers, will willingly take part in a public process. After all, we’re talking about hiring a person to run a critical public institution.

Let’s be clear. We accept that early stages of application and review can be done through an internal and private process. But when the school board is down to a handful of finalists, it will be time to welcome public involvement.

Anything less would be out of step with Oak Park and River Forest’s traditions of active citizen involvement.

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