The District 97 Board of Education has come to a consensus about how best to conduct the process of hiring a replacement for outgoing superintendent Al Roberts, who announced his retirement on Jan. 6. Roberts’s resignation will go into effect on July 1, 2015.
The district has begun the process of looking for a professional search firm to facilitate the hiring of the next superintendent. On Jan. 6, requests for qualifications (RFQ) were sent to four candidate firms – B.W.P., Hazard, Young, Attea & Assoc., Ray & Assoc., and School Exec. Connect. Responses from those firms were expected by Jan. 12.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board opted to establish a two-person committee, comprising board vice president James Gates and member Graham Brisben, to interview the four search firms between Jan. 14 and Jan. 21.
The two will evaluate the four proposals, “having them clarify things that are very important to this board and community,” Brisben said. He noted that one of the most important factors for the board to consider is each firm’s perspective on stakeholder advisory input.
After winnowing the four firms to two finalists, the committee will draft recommendations on which the full board may, in part, base its decision to hire the search firm of its choosing. The board is scheduled to take a vote on that hire Jan. 27.
The Jan. 13 board meeting was the first time the board met since Roberts officially announced his resignation, although he had indicated earlier to the board his desire to retire.
Brisben, a logistics professional, said that, upon learning of Roberts’s decision, he tried drafting a Gantt chart, which would basically outline, in chronological order, the process for finding a replacement. However, forecasting the steps in the process necessary for recruiting, evaluating and hiring a new superintendent would be “impossible….without the benefit of the expert advice and counsel of a retained search party,” according to Brisben.
Most board members agreed that it is imperative to secure a search firm as early as possible in order to identify the best candidates.
“There is a season in [the education] field,” said board member Jim O’Connor, a career educator and school administrator. “Great people will be available earlier. I want to get into the pool…to get the highest qualified applicants,” he said.
The district will utilize the firm it hires to conduct a national search of “the best and brightest” education leaders, according to Brisben, who also mentioned that he would expect to interview the project manager from each firm who will be assigned to lead the District 97 search.
“It’s important to get the firm engaged quickly, and that the total process is started quickly, to get lots of candidates engaged,” Brisben said.
The board believes that “engaging a highly capable and experienced executive search firm will aid its efforts to find the bests candidates for this vital position,” read a statement by the board on the request for qualifications (RFQ) document.
But there was unanimous agreement that the sense of urgency brought to finding a search firm shouldn’t necessarily extend to hiring a new superintendent. Virtually the entire board agreed with member Peter Traczyk, who insisted that the search process “should happen in its natural course”—whether that comes before or after the April 7 school board elections.
“I strongly believe that getting it done right is the most important thing,” Traczyk said. “Barring passing policy, [hiring a superintendent] is the most important thing we do.”
Roberts’s retirement comes at a sensitive moment, with the terms of four board members — Traczyk, Denise Sacks, Robert Spatz and Jim O’Connor set to expire and only two – board president Spatz and O’Connor – running for reelection. However, there was unanimous agreement that the impact of the elections on the decision to hire Roberts’ replacement should take a backseat to hiring a highly qualified candidate and maintaining board cohesion.
“I’m for any process that ensures that the next board can work together as a cohesive board,” said Gates.
“Speed is not as important as quality,” Brisben said. “My motto is, ‘Hire slowly, fire quickly and don’t settle.'”
Brisben noted that a typical search process would take between six and eight weeks, which could stretch a decision out to July 1. He said that, in a compressed scenario, a hire could happen within 30 days—a scenario that doesn’t seem likely considering the board’s consensus that the hiring process be carried out slowly and deliberately.
It’s likely that the board will insist on selecting Roberts’ replacement before his retirement goes into effect, since the board was also in unanimous agreement that the hiring of an interim superintendent should only be considered as a decision of last resort.
If Roberts were to retire without a successor in place, the board would be required by state law to appoint an interim.
Roberts said that, for his part, he would welcome the opportunity to help his successor get acquainted “in any way possible.”