May/June 2020

Executive Searches: Still Looking Ahead

By Theresa Kelly Gegen

The work of matching school districts with the best candidates for open or pending superintendent positions continues during coronavirus pandemic. IASB Executive Searches Director Tom Leahy and his team of consultants are learning as they go, accustomed to providing in-person search meetings to school boards, which then conduct on-site interviews with candidates.

“Districts are looking ahead and moving forward,” Leahy said. “Not only does the work continue to progress, but we are learning new means to get the work done. The technology is unbelievable.”

Board of education meetings are taking place under the suspension of the in-person meeting requirements of the Open Meetings Act. In these cases, as in normal circumstances, the board’s agenda includes the move to closed session to discuss personnel matters.

“We are doing some virtual meetings, with this conferencing technology,” Leahy said. “I had a meeting with a board to determine its direction in its search. They could see and hear me, and I could hear all of them and see most of them. It was an actual board meeting, but most of the board members were not there in person.”

Districts with searches underway are balancing where they are in their timetables with social distancing requirements, preferences for in-person interviews, the timing of other issues related to the emergency, and the advice of their legal counsel. One district that IASB has presented to is moving forward with its search after establishing a set of norms. 

The emergency measures were in place, and school buildings closed to students, by the time the interviews were conducted. The district established a clear and safe location, and it has interviewed candidates with distancing, sanitizing, and protocols set up with the help of legal counsel.
“This district developed a set of norms for interviewing candidates through the course of the pandemic,” Leahy said. “We assisted with that via distributing those norms to the candidates, with the options for their interviews.”

In normal times, IASB Executive Searches consultants meet with their districts in-person multiple times, including initial meetings and presenting candidate information. 

“One of the unusual occurrences that’s happened here is a search with a district and I haven’t even been to the district to see them personally,” Leahy said. “We worked with them years ago, and they felt comfortable enough to proceed. So we’ve sent all of the documents to the district that we normally hand-deliver.”

The candidate information was sent electronically, and the board president made copies to distribute for the board to have that information during interviews, which took place in March. “They are doing this with a set of protocols similar to the other, with some changes and the blessing of their own legal counsel,” Leahy said. 

In another district, IASB was able to present candidates before the stay-in-place orders, and the first round of interviews had been conducted. The district has since narrowed its list down and is working with IASB to determine the next steps.

But some searches have been put on hold. Districts far enough along to have interviews scheduled have decided to put their efforts on hold and not move forward at this time.

”Every district is making the best decisions it can under its circumstances and with the advice of its legal counsel,” Leahy said. “Since this coronavirus situation heated up, they have stopped some interviews. We let candidates know this process is delayed, and please stick with us. But I do worry for some districts that they may lose individuals.”

As they work through their searches, Leahy, Executive Searches Administrative Assistant Mary Torgler, and Consultants Dave Love, Alan Molby, Jim Helton, Tim Buss, Valorie Moore, and Patricia Sullivan-Viniard manage the learning curve.

“We continue to communicate about how it’s working,” Leahy said. “It’s caused us to stretch the possibilities, and we are all learning from each other.”

Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal.