Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 28, 2014

District searches for new superintendent

School board president to invite search firms to make presentations in March

by Chris Kenrick

Opening a search to replace Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly, school board President Barb Mitchell said Tuesday she would invite three or four search firms to make public presentations to the board next month.

Mitchell polled colleagues on their search preferences Tuesday at the first Board of Education meeting since the at-times embattled Skelly announced on Feb. 18 that he plans to step down June 30.

Members agreed they wanted to engage a search firm rather than conduct a search themselves and said they preferred to interview multiple firms before settling on one.

"Professional search firms have the ability to go out in a much wider way than we could in just doing advertising," board Vice-President Melissa Baten Caswell said.

Since presentations by each firm typically take at least an hour, they also agreed not to make them part of the regular March 11 board meeting but to find a date for a special meeting, preferably around the same time.

Though the meeting will be open to the public, board members said competing search firms should not be in the room during their competitors' presentations.

The board will ask the firms how they identify potential applicants and whether they have unusual approaches for ensuring an adequate pool of good candidates.

Other questions on a list culled from the district's most recent superintendent search in 2007 include "How would you tailor your search for the needs of Palo Alto?" and "What do you see as the biggest challenge for us in filling our superintendent position?"

Search firms also will be asked how they protect candidates' confidentiality and what happens if a qualified candidate does not emerge.

Board members, as well as Palo Alto Council of PTAs President Sigrid Pinsky, stressed the need for a transparent search process that solicits a wide range of community opinion.

The board will ask search firms what they would do to ensure adequate participation from the community.

Among the firms that board members said they hope to interview are HYA Executive Search, a national leadership recruitment firm; Leadership Associates, a southern California-based consulting firm of former school district leaders — including former Palo Alto Superintendent Jim Brown — that specializes in California superintendent searches; and Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based firm specializing in educational executive leadership searches.

The board also is considering inviting Proact Search, a national school leadership search firm.

Leadership Associates is the firm that recruited Skelly seven years ago, and one of its partners, former Vista and Coronado superintendent Rene Townsend, has facilitated Palo Alto board retreats in recent years.

Tuesday's discussion on the superintendent search followed a round of praise for Skelly by board members, who credited him with leading the district through difficult financial years, executing a strategic plan, investing in teachers and staff development, focusing on social-emotional health of students and raising graduation requirements.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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