Closing the Communications Gap, Part II
HIRING A NEW SUPERINTENDENT--SOME APPROPRIATE ROLES
There are appropriate roles for citizens and news media in the hiring of a new school
district superintendent. There also are some inappropriate roles that can make selection
of a new superintendent a school board nightmare.
The problems arise when:
- interest groups publicly demand to interview candidates for the job and to express their
opinions as to who should be hired, and/or
- the identities of candidates are leaked to the news media.
The first problem is sure to discourage serious candidates and likely to result in a
mismatch between the superintendent and the school board. (If the board expects the new
superintendent to be accountable to the board, then the board must do the hiring, not the
teachers union, business community or local television station.)
The second problem creates embarrassment for candidates who had been getting along fine
with their current employers and is likely to result in withdrawals, not to mention a
reduced pool of candidates the next time that school board goes looking for a
To prevent such situations from arising, a school board that is about to launch a
superintendent search must clearly establish its role as the employer. School boards are
elected to represent the public, and one of their most important jobs is to employ a
superintendent. Interviewing finalists and selecting the one who best meets the school
district's needs is the job of the school board. Activities that are appropriate to an
election have no place in the selection of an educational leader for the school district.
It is not appropriate, for example, for a school board to present candidates to the
public and make a selection on the basis of a popularity poll. News media representatives
who advocate public forums evaluating candidates confuse election campaigns with the
By the same token, news media representatives who treat candidates for the
superintendency like public celebrities create a reputation for their school districts
that discourages successful administrators from becoming candidates.
To accommodate those eager for involvement and preclude unreasonable demands, the
school board should establish procedures for ascertaining the views of the community in
establishing qualifications and standards for the superintendency. There are many ways to
seek these views, including surveys, committees, public hearings, and just generally
listening to what people say they would like in a new superintendent. Newspapers and
broadcast media can play a key role by encouraging interested people to speak up and
publicizing different points of view as to what the district needs.
However, public discussion of what the district needs in a superintendent must come
long before the pool of applicants is narrowed down to a few finalists. Identifying
desired qualifications and characteristics should be an initial step, for this information
plays an important part of the board's advertising to solicit candidates.
During the final stages of the selection process, there probably are key persons in any
community that a prospective superintendent might want or need to meet. Matching a
superintendent with a community is usually a two-way sales situation, so the community
must sell itself to the candidate as well as vice versa. A school board might arrange for
two or three finalists to meet key school-community leaders.
A school board might also provide a public explanation of the consequences of
inappropriate procedures. A mismatch between the job and the person ultimately hired
results when candidates receive a distorted picture of who the employer is. And when news
reporters use personal contacts to learn the identities of candidates for the
superintendency and publicize their names and their current employers, candidates become
leery of applying for the job--including perhaps the very one who would have been best for
Some employing school boards are aware that their superintendents are pursuing other
jobs, some are not. School boards usually must promise anonymity to candidates or advise
candidates from the outset that anonymity cannot be guaranteed. School boards that cannot
guarantee anonymity will receive fewer applications and have fewer candidates from which
to choose a new superintendent. A school board that promises anonymity and doesn't deliver
it sends an unpleasant message that reaches prospective candidates everywhere.
School boards, community leaders and news media should work together in their
appropriate roles in seeking the very best educational leader for their schools.
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