Representatives from Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA), a suburban search firm hired to carry out Oak Park Elementary School District 97’s superintendent search, hosted a forum, Oct. 20, for families and residents to offer input on the ongoing hiring process.

HYA President Max McGee and senior associate Connie Collins led the hour-and-a-half-long discussion Wednesday night via Zoom and heard from parents and other key community stakeholders about their expectations for a permanent superintendent and the issues facing the district.

McGee said the forum was another way for attendees to share their thoughts openly, candidly and anonymously, if they desired, and part of HYA’s efforts to address the district’s needs. He explained further that he and Collins, a former District 97 superintendent, were there to guide the conversation, collect information and pick up ideas to help craft interview questions for potential candidates.

Over the last few months, HYA interviewed 100 people, including school administrators, parent leaders and local community partners, and released an online survey to better understand the district’s various needs. Approximately 1,474 people — a majority of whom were parents with children who attend the district, followed by teachers, staff and taxpayers — responded to the survey, McGee and Collins previously reported. Of those respondents, 1,290 had submitted written comments, citing staff retention, communication and transparency, and a growing achievement gap as major concerns.

“We have already done the survey analysis,” McGee said at the Oct. 20 Zoom meeting. “We’ve written up interviews. We’ve written up focus groups. We’ve written up our staff forum. After we finish this, we’ll have a full-length written report next week.”

That report, he added, will be used to recruit more candidates.

During the Oct. 20 meeting, some parents restated problems outlined in the online survey. They spoke about the district’s struggle to recruit and maintain faculty and staff and the lack of pathways for career advancement. They also want a new superintendent who has experience in that role and worked with a diverse student population. They wanted someone who can take on the district’s achievement gap and strengthen D97’s middle schools, preparing students for high school and beyond.

McGee and Collins also shared with attendees that they are currently screening applicants and plan to recommend five or six candidates to the Board of Education by the target date of Nov. 30.

Board members have the final say on which candidates will make it to the first-round interviews, McGee said. First-round and second-round interviews are expected to be held in December and early January, he said. 

McGee and Collins said it is up to the board whether they will publicly share the names of the top 5 or 6 candidates. The two shared that they have worked with districts who have openly listed the names of applicants vying for superintendent and who have kept that information confidential.

Applicants “will many times shy away from applying for the position because they don’t want information out there that they’re looking [for a job], because if they don’t get the job,” Collins explained, “they’ve got to deal with their community and with the superintendent or other staff members and their board, and still have to function within that environment.”

“I think there’s a lot of protection that we try to provide around these individuals, so that people will be open and will want to apply and really move forward with the process rather than pulling out,” she said.

Applications for superintendent are now closed, according to the D97 website. To stay up-to-date on the district’s superintendent search, visit https://www.op97.org/boe/superintendent-search.

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