The Search for a Super Superintendent: Whys & Hows of Search Firms

This discussion consists of my reflections and opinions on our superintendent search.  It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of other Board members.

  1. We may increase our chances of finding a truly super superintendent.
    We have talked on the Board about our feeling that our district is in a good position to step up a notch (or notches) in the quality of our performance and the achievement of our students.   

    Dr. Moody suggested in her last report to the Board that Rock Hill 3 Schools are average in their performance.  That is not good enough.  Out of 84 school districts in SC we are 13th from the top in the ranking on poverty level.  That is, only 12 other districts have a lower poverty rate, while 72 districts have higher rates of poverty than we do.  The higher the proportion of poor students the harder it is to teach all of them effectively.  Not impossible.  Just harder because poor children don’t come to school with the skills absorbed almost imperceptibly by middle class children from birth.  “This is a rhinoceros.  A dog goes woof.  This is an A.  Z stands for zebra.  Here’s how to write your name.”  Etc. etc.   Moms and Dads who work two jobs at low wages often don’t have the time or knowledge to build this preparation for school.  Successful schools overcome this.However, our performance ranking is 26th.  That means that 13 of these districts have higher rates of poverty than Rock Hill 3 (at 65%) but their students perform better than we have been doing.  I have been visiting schools one by one for several years now and see super teaching in our classrooms.  With strong leadership, collaboration, and focus we can make the leap.

  2.  We need a stronger, higher achieving school district to survive the competition of being geographically situated between the first and third richest and also very successful districts in the state.  In 2011-2012 the richest district in the state was Fort Mill York 4 with the states’ lowest poverty level of 28% and a state ranking of #3 with a 95.0 performance score as calculated by the SC Department of Education.  The second richest district in the state was Clover with a poverty rate of 43 % and ranking 4th at 94.6 performance score.  It is interesting that the first and second ranked school districts in SC were Anderson 1 with a 96.7 score and Spartanburg 1 with 96.3.  Their poverty levels respectively were 68% and 66%.  In contrast the Rock Hill 3 score was 89.8 and 65%.  It’s not impossible to teach all children.  Difficult but achievable with hard work and collaboration. 
  3.  We are situated geographically for improvement.  In late spring I attended a Chamber of Commerce conference in Columbia which pointed, among other strengths, to the location of Rock Hill along the I-77 corridor and the businesses locating here.  They specifically talked about the Charleston harbor improvements and the jump off from Charlotte into the eastern upper mid-west via I 77.  That seemed a bit far-fetched but I have since noted the businesses locating here as well as several distribution centers bringing additional jobs; though admittedly many are typically low paying.  I feel that our city government seeks to optimize opportunities for families and the attractiveness of our town.  When I moved here in 1998 I noted even then the strength of our recreation opportunities for families.  With husband and cocker spaniel in tow I spent numerous fall evenings cheering on small fry, pee wee, and gray-y players and cheerleaders. 
  4. This super Superintendent whom we seek may not be seeking us.  All the search firms made the point that the right person for us might not be looking for a new job.  The firms all referenced their access to knowledge of successful serving superintendents.  Two firms seemed to me more focused on North and South Carolina but two discussed access across the U.S.  It seems convincing that the person whom we want might not be looking for a job (at least until they hear about the opportunities in Rock Hill.).  All four firms discussed their “special” contacts to help find the right person for the Superintendent whom we describe as seeking. 
  5. All four companies described four steps in the recruiting process.A.

    Definition. What kind of superintendent do we want?  What do we want to accomplish?  Input from stakeholders comes here as does much discussion by the Board.  A successful completion to this step results in a Position Description for our Superintendent.B.  Sourcing is done by the search firm.  This means they take our Position Description and use it to find the person we seek. It consists of two parts; reactive and proactive.
    Reactive means our Position Description will be circulated in publications such as
    Education Week or other agencies.  Candidates who are actively looking will respond at this level.
    Proactive work is done by the recruiters when they use our Position Description to search their knowledge data bank and contacts for persons not looking but who fit the description for what we want.  One group said 95% of those hired came from this category.

     

  6. Evaluations are done by the search firm including a careful rating of received applications, multiple phone interviews and also face-to-face interviews and background checks.  Some use is being made of Skype.  The Board will be given a group of candidates to consider.  This number varied from 6 to 20 depending on the firm.  After the Board’s deliberations and discussion we determine some smaller number of candidates who become the finalists.  These finalists are typically invited for in district interviews. 
  7. Closure consists of extensive checking of references and backgrounds by the search firm with the Board involved in this step also.  The board makes a final choice and makes a job offer, which, we hope, will  be accepted by our chosen one.
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