How vital is the board of education president at a school district in the superintendent search process?
Finding a new superintendent at a school district is a process that requires a dedicated group of individuals that are committed to finding the right person who will step in a lead the district’s students, teachers, and administrators. HYA Associate, John Perdue, shares some of his expertise on the topic.
The role of the school board president has changed over recent years. From political influences, a global pandemic, diversity issues, contested board elections and varying philosophies about what students are learning, the board president’s role is filled with enormous challenges. Developing a diverse board into a cohesive unit to serve the best interests of students is a primary leadership quality for today’s school board president. A search for a new superintendent represents the key to district success in bridging the board’s governing role to implementing policy through a strong board – superintendent relationship.
What are some of the important roles of a school board president during the superintendent search process at a school district?
- The role of board president is not the same as a board member. You have a greater leadership capacity, influence and established knowledge of the school district as well as the support of board members who have elected you to the position. Use this leadership to seek the very best match of a superintendent candidate for the school community.
- Know your school district and its projected needs and challenges. Reflect on the candidates’ ability to lead the district into the future, understanding current needs and challenges. Understand the capabilities of other district leaders and what is needed in a new leader.
- As board president it is incumbent upon your ability to build consensus collaboratively with board members, setting differences aside. Know how to navigate sensitive topics among board members, prioritizing what is best for students. Many boards during the pandemic met virtually, preventing face-to-face meetings, diminishing the ability to work together in person. Center any political influences among board members on how the candidate will lead student learning, the culture of the district and collaboration.
- Remind your colleagues that candidates are interviewing you! Candidates want to see how the Board works collectively, and how you lead the board in your role as president. Candidates will watch your meetings before and during the process.
- The search process is the initial step in building a board – superintendent partnership, the most important relationship established from meeting a candidate. Pay attention to how the finalist interacts with you and other stakeholders, negotiating terms of a contract and relationship building capacity.
- Understand and use the district mission, values and beliefs as key indicators of how a superintendent candidate will lead. These core statements represent the district and a candidate must be able to articulate a leadership vision in unison with these descriptors.
- Create a communication plan for internal and external audiences throughout the process. Transparency during the selection process is vital to board integrity, trust and allowing stakeholders to understand the process as it develops.
- Know your community and its expectations during the search process. Allowing community input into the selection phase whether through engagement focus groups, “meet and greet” sessions, community forums or structured community gatherings will build trust and a foundation for the candidate’s success.
- Empower other board members to assist with various phases of the search process: names/invitations for engagement focus groups, district tours, lunch/dinner meetings, etc.
- Trust the search process laid out by the HYA consultants. It’s tried and true from over 1,500 searches and has been customized to your district.
- Once the superintendent is selected, your job is not finished. Be sure to convene a work session with the board and new leader to develop an entry plan and identify an initial set of first year goals.
- And finally, listen…learn…lead.