It was a topic the District 200 Board of Education knew it would have to decide on in their search for a new superintendent: whether or not to make the finalists known to the public.
The answer is no.
Board President Ralph Lee said a solid majority of the board agrees that the finalists should not be made public, feeling that doing so would result in some candidates, perhaps even the best candidates, not applying for the job. The decision to keep the finalists private was also the recommendation of their search firm, School Exec Connect. The firm’s president, Linda Hanson, said her company has been very successful in finding quality superintendents using this process. The Illinois-based firm found the superintendents for District 90 in River Forest and the Proviso Township High Schools in Maywood, she noted.
Lee added that there were other search firms the board considered that recommended making the finalists public, which factored into the board’s decision to hire School Exec Connect.
“It did not make sense to hire a firm and then tell that firm that we want them to do something that goes against what they normally do,” he said.
Hanson said there are candidates currently applying for the District 200 position but that it’s still very early in the process. She said she expects more to apply. Hanson added that her firm typically narrows the pool down to five prospects. Those candidates are interviewed by a committee of administrators and faculty, which has yet to be created in Dist. 200. That pool is then narrowed to three finalists who then interview individually with the board. This end process, however, is slightly different than what’s been done historically concerning Oak Park’s school districts.
There’s usually been some form of public vetting of superintendent finalists prior to the individual’s hiring. The search process in fall 2006/spring 2007 that yielded outgoing school superintendent Attila Weninger included separate public forums for each finalist. Lee acknowledged that some Oak Parkers may not like this new process.
“There will be some members in community who will be disappointed that they will not be able to make an impact on the final decision. But there is really no such thing as a single opinion of the community. Our duty [as a board] is to get the best candidate available, and we believe we’ll get a better quality of candidates if that final round is not public,” he said.
Board members addressed this issue briefly before hiring the search firm; a majority opposed publicizing the finalists. Both Lee and Hanson noted that publicly naming finalists would make things uneasy at their respective districts.
“If it is publicized, then it will become know in their district that they applied for another position, and in our society, that is seen as a negative thing,” said Lee. “We’re convinced that we have a better chance at getting candidates that are currently in superintendent positions, and those candidates know that if they don’t get the position; that will make things difficult for them back in their home districts.”
Lee added that the board has not taken any vote of whether or not to publicize the finalists and maintained that such a vote is normally not needed, unless a board member brings forth a motion on the matter. That, Lee said, has not happened thus far.
Hanson, however, maintained that the community will be involved in the search process. Focus groups comprised of parents, students and staff, and a community survey, are expected to launch later this month. The results from those efforts will be presented to the board in February. The entire search process is expected to wrap up in May, Hanson said.