National Convening for Educational Leaders on June 3, 2024

Considerations for Boards Getting Ready to Conduct a Search

So your Board needs to do a superintendent search during the coming year due to the superintendent’s retirement or possibly the need for a change in leadership. Most of the Board has never conducted a superintendent search before and you are wondering what you need to be doing to prepare for a search. Some thoughts and reflections about the search process may be helpful.

First and foremost, you should not be anxious about having to conduct a search. Yes, it will be time consuming for the Board. Yes, it is a very important decision. And, yes, it requires Board members to think about many issues they may not have considered in the past. But, it can also be one of the most important decisions you will make and one of the most rewarding experiences you may have as a Board member.

Many Boards have found that while the search process can be exhausting, it is also a great opportunity to take stock in the current state of the District and where the Board wants it to go in the future. The selection of a new leader can often be a rebirth for the District and a profound and meaningful bonding experience for the Board. It is important that you approach the experience with an open mind, a sense of purpose, and a strong commitment to be fully engaged.

There are several important decisions and considerations you should investigate before the Board starts the search process. These topics, if addressed early on in your decision-making, can make the process run smoothly and help to ensure the selection of a great leader for your district.

Learning about your state’s requirements for certification, timelines, confidentiality guidelines, and compensation

Regulations vary greatly from state to state on these matters. Your school board attorney, the state school board association, and/or the search consultant, if you hire one, can help with these matters. The important issue is that you learn about the requirements before you start the process for the search. The worst case scenario is that your search falls apart because you missed a requirement or did not anticipate issues related to contract and compensation.

Determining levels of transparency versus confidentiality

One of the biggest considerations the Board will need to make is the right balance between transparency and confidentiality. Certainly, state regulations drive some of these considerations in some states, but in others the Board may have some important decisions to make in determining how confidential the search will be. The tension in this issue lies in the community’s desire for transparency and to know who the candidates are and the candidates’ desires for confidentiality in the search process. This issue requires the Board to think about who will be making the final decision about the selection and what input that body desires in making their decision.

Determining what internal resources you can trust and you can use

For most boards, the Superintendent is the conduit to internal staff resources for work that needs to be accomplished by the Board. Given the circumstances of the Superintendent’s departure from the District, that individual may not be available to the Board to provide support. If that is the case, the Board needs to consider whom they wish to trust in the organization to assist them with the process and what resources they need for the process. These decisions can make the difference in whether or not the search process runs smoothly and is completed successfully.

Defining what you want a search firm to do

The first decision a Board may need to make is whether or not they use a search firm or conduct the search on their own. If doing the search on their own, the Board should be conscious of the amount of time and energy the process will take and who is able to complete the necessary tasks. If using a firm, the Board needs to define what they want the firm to do to support the Board and what the Board wants to maintain as its own work. A whole array of tasks and process steps will need to be discussed and defined with the firm to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Developing a communication plan

Leadership transitions always produce anxiety both internally and externally in a school district. The Board can do a great deal to alleviate this anxiety by developing a comprehensive communication plan regarding the search. Keeping all constituencies informed about the process, the opportunities for involvement, and the timelines for the search will help stakeholders understand their roles and instill trust that the Board knows what it is doing in selecting the next leader of the organization.

Lastly, it is never too early to start thinking about transition. While the immediate task may be selecting the new leader, it is also important for the Board to think about transitioning the new leader into the organization once selected. These considerations should be made as part the design of the search process and should not wait until the new leader is selected.

Hank Gmitro

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HYA provides comprehensive and customizable consulting for district leaders and school boards.

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