12 Key Considerations for School Boards to be Mindful of When Hiring a New Superintendent

The most significant work of the board of education at a school district is selecting the Superintendent.

It is an awesome responsibility, making it essential to get the process right and it’s important to keep in mind these 12 key considerations that can make or break the success of the search. Whether you are a school board member, administrator, or community member, understanding these considerations can help ensure that your school district finds the right leader.

1. Timing

Your school district deserves the opportunity to select from a pool of the most highly qualified superintendent candidates who will serve the district well – now and into the future. One way to put your district in the position of attracting the perfect match is to time the search process right. It is ideal to start the search at least one year before the desired first day of employment. Given the school year calendar, your search should begin the summer prior to the usual July 1 start date. 

2. Decide if a search firm will be utilized

Consider hiring a search firm to assist with the superintendent search process. A search firm can help with recruiting, screening, and conducting interviews, which can save time and resources. The ability to network and recruit can be significantly more candidates to the table for consideration.

3. Engage the community 

Involve the community in the superintendent search process by holding town hall meetings, sending surveys, and seeking feedback from stakeholders. This will help ensure that the selected candidate is a good fit for the district and has support from all community stakeholders.

4. Alignment with district goals and values

One of the most important considerations in a superintendent search is alignment with the district’s goals and values. The superintendent will be responsible for leading the district in achieving its goals, so it is crucial that they understand the expectations of the board as detailed in the district’s mission, vision, core values and strategic priorities. Before the search committee can begin a selection process, it is important that a leadership profile is built with the input of all stakeholders. A solid leadership profile, including required experience, education, and personal characteristics will help guide and focus the search process to ensure that the selected candidate meets the needs of the school district and the community it serves.

5. Advertise the position widely

Utilize a variety of methods to advertise the superintendent position, including professional organizations, national and local media, and social media. This will help reach a wider pool of superintendent candidates and increase the chances of finding the right fit.

6. Controlling for unconscious bias

Biases can form misrepresentations in the hiring process and may have negative impacts on recruitment, ultimately affecting the future of a school district. Knowing the influence unconscious bias can have on the employment process, the school board should develop a process that is mindful of this reality. One way to do this is to narrow the field to finalists before any identifying factors are revealed. This empowers the board to control for unconscious bias, judging candidates solely based on merit. Given this reality, do not require video applications. The board will have the opportunity to meet candidates that have been selected for an in person or virtual interview through their review of application materials. 

7. Screen applicants thoroughly

Carefully review all applications and resumes to ensure that each candidate meets the required qualifications as detailed in the leadership profile. Use background checks, reference checks, and other methods to verify information of the finalists and assess fit for the position. The best references are those that the candidate did not include in their materials. Be sure that the candidates know when reference checking will commence so they can alert their employer to their candidacy.

8. Know the candidate is also interviewing the board

The most important element in a candidate’s decision about changing jobs is the quality of the board and the willingness of school board members to work as a team to improve the school system. Active superintendents will be willing to explore the option of leading a school district if three conditions prevail:

  • They will be given the opportunity to utilize their professional leadership skills in a meaningful and proactive manner to move a district forward.
  • They will be granted confidentiality during the interview process so that they do not need to put their current job on the line and risk alienating their current board and/or community.
  • They will have an opportunity to advance professionally and financially.

9. Conduct thorough interviews 

Prepare a list of questions that are aligned to the leadership profile and conduct in-person or virtual interviews in the first round. In-person should be utilized for the final round(s) of interviews. Ask open-ended questions that allow the candidate to demonstrate their experience, leadership style, and vision for the district.

10. Community participation

Decide if the community or committee(s) will be part of the interview process. It is best practice to keep the search process as confidential as possible (dependent on state law) to get the best pool of candidates. If community participation is desired beyond the development of the leadership profile, forums to meet the candidates and provide feedback for each candidate via an instrument is most common. This can be done in real-time using technologies.

11. Evaluate each candidate objectively

Use a standardized evaluation process for each candidate to ensure that the selection is based on objective criteria and the leadership profile. This will help ensure that the best candidate is selected for the position. Consider the needs of the district, the fit of the candidate, and the potential for success in the role. Utilize decision making matrices to help build consensus among the Board.

12. Set the new superintendent up for success

You found the right candidate and now it is important to ensure a smooth and successful transition. Provide the new superintendent with orientation and training to familiarize them with the district’s policies, procedures, and culture. Decide on communication protocols between the board, board president and superintendent. Provide the new superintendent with an executive coach and any other support they may need.

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