School board selects supe-search firm | News | Palo Alto Online |


School board selects supe-search firm

Chosen company uses 'aggressive' recruiting strategies

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, an Illinois-based leadership firm that has conducted numerous superintendent searches in California school districts, will oversee the process for selecting Palo Alto Unified's top leader.

The school board voted unanimously to hire the firm on Tuesday night after hearing public presentations from four companies. Board members said they valued the firm's experience in California and with Basic Aid districts like Palo Alto Unified.

The board is looking for a permanent replacement for former superintendent Max McGee, who resigned in September. (McGee now works for Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates as the firm's Midwest president, but board members said at a previous meeting they didn't think this constitutes a conflict of interest.)

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, whose West Coast regional office is located in Palo Alto, has conducted searches for nearby districts including the Ravenswood City School District, Cupertino Union School District, Sequoia Union High School District, Woodside Elementary School District and Portola Valley Elementary School District, according to a proposal from the firm.

The other three firms the district considered were Ray and Associates; Leadership Associates (which conducted the district's last two superintendent searches); and McPherson & Jacobson.

After they heard the presentations and asked the firms questions, board members shared reference checks they had done for each company and then identified their top two choices. Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates ultimately came out on top, followed by McPherson & Jacobson, which is the California School Board Association's search firm.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell voiced concern about a recent placement McPherson & Jacobson made in the Pleasanton Unified School District. The Pleasanton school board fired the new superintendent there after only six months, costing the district a $256,000 severance package and the price of a new search. Several months later, the East Bay Times reported that the superintendent had been investigated for sexual harassment.

The new search in Pleasanton was conducted by Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

Board member Todd Collins called other school districts listed as references for Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates; they all said their searches were "satisfactory."

Carolyn McKennan, the firm's West Coast regional president, and associate Jacki Horejs, both retired superintendents, described their processes for seeking input from community members, including conducting focus groups, interviews and an online survey, as well as "aggressive" recruiting strategies. Approximately 75 percent of the candidates ultimately selected by school boards were people the firm specifically recruited for that district.

The two women, along with a third consultant from the firm, David Cash, will be running the search.

Costs of the firm's services include a $23,500 consulting fee, $1,950 to $5,000 for advertising the job, $1,105 to $1,950 per candidate for background checks and $2,200 for the consultants' travel expenses, among other fees, according the firm's proposal. The total cost will be a fixed price.

One of the main differences between Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates and McPherson & Jacobson was their position on an open versus closed process. While McPherson & Jacobson said they prefer to keep the entire process open to the public, including releasing names of final candidates, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates recommended against it.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates said they have run searches both ways, but some candidates — especially sitting superintendents — might not take the risk of a public process in case they don't get the job. In past searches, the firm also found a midway point: forming an advisory committee of stakeholders to meet with finalists in private and then provide feedback to the board.

The board has not yet decided if it will conduct a national or statewide search for its next superintendent, but its members have emphasized that candidates must understand educational, legal and financial requirements unique to California. In a response to a series of questions from the board submitted before the meeting, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates recommended the board "cast its net as broadly as possible to see if the best candidate might be secured from a national search."

Candidates must also be prepared to work in a high-performing district with a highly engaged community, President Terry Godfrey repeatedly said Tuesday. The firms described Palo Alto Unified as an attractive, prestigious district that should have no trouble bringing in high-quality candidates. Several firms also referenced issues that have made headlines in the district, from a recent youth suicide cluster to reports of sexual misconduct.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates said the biggest challenge in hiring a superintendent here will be "narrowing the field of potentially qualified candidates by matching where PAUSD is now and where you want to be in five years or more."

By contrast, Bill Huwett of McPherson & Jacobson said the district's largest challenge will be to find an experienced superintendent who is well-versed at "solving problems publicly and can build trust and respect in doing so."

"Some candidates will look at that as a barrier and some candidates will look at it as a thrill," he said.

The board will approve a contract with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates at its Tuesday meeting.

In the coming months, the district plans to send out information on how to provide individual input and when open forums will be held for the search. Information will also be posted on a dedicated district webpage.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 11:09 am

How does PAUSD NOT see this as a conflict of interest?? “Hey here’s this guy that [portion removed] was forced to step down, why don’t we hire him to find his replacement!” WHAT IN THE WORLD???

I don’t even care who they hire but this just strikes me as DUMB

3 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 11:23 am

When will the PAUSD Board come under heightened scrutiny? Are each and every District mis-steps solely the fault of a prior superintendent? Has the Board studied -- on a regular basis -- best practices and then, after some considered debate, adopted the 'best of the best'? If not yet, then why not now?

Given some of the District's issues of late, would it be wise to consider reviewing Board practices? Is the District -- parents; taxpayers; Board members; District staff -- asking too much of its Board? Would it be wise to consider not just a review of Board practices but an increase in Board size? Increasing Board seats by 2, say, might allow the Board to set up ad-hoc committees to study -- together with parents; students; and staff -- issues of importance?

In a broad sense, are we parents certain we've done all we can to ensure the District is the absolute best?

5 people like this
Posted by a pickle
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Imagine you are considering applying for the job.

Your Google search reveals that the last Superintendent was paid to resign months shy of his announced retirement and, coincidentally, he is now an exec at the recruiting firm searching for his replacement.

To help you decide whether to put your name in as a candidate, you call the firm and ask to talk to Max McGee about PAUSD.

PAUSD will be in a pickle if Dr. McGee goes negative with potential applicants since the school board can't fully explain or defend itself, having agreed not to talk about Dr. McGee and his employment here. Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 29, 2017 at 2:06 pm

To the limited effect there is a conflict, it is favorable to the district. Any candidate could find and call McGee, whether he was working for this firm or not - they'd be dumb not to. Now McGee has a (small) incentive to say positive things - it will help his new colleagues get their search done. He likely would have said positive things anyway (that's his style), but now he has actually has a small financial reason to do it.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Also, reading again, the restriction on releasing info about "McGee and his employment" applies to both parties. He isn't supposed to talk about it either.

Like this comment
Posted by observer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 29, 2017 at 4:08 pm

What do you think Max McGee's answer will be to "why did board members call for your early termination?"

It will be off putting if a candidate hears "they paid me not to talk about it."

If he talks his answer likely won't be "I left because what school board members told the press about me is true."

11 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

Of course its a conflict of interest! Its practically a text book case of conflict of interest! And perhaps its worth commenting on how fast McGee got a job there after being basically forced to resign from PAUSD.

3 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 5:43 pm

"Of course its a conflict of interest!"

And, given same, does not some concern lie with the Board and its actions last night?

In a broad sense, when will parents collectively re-look at the Board? Clearly, much has been written about the last three superintendents but when will the Board -- particularly, the current one -- come under further, heightened review? At some point soon, shouldn't the current Board stand back and re-examine and re-set its policies? Do we parents have the best Board possible?

5 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 29, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Sorry what exactly is the "conflict of interest" here? Is the idea that Mcgee is adverse to the district because he was forced out? He's not involved in any way with the search (he is the midwest manager, last I checked, we are in the west), so how does it come into play?

Regardless of whether his firm is used or not, candidates will call him up, and he'll say whatever he says (presumably not much if his separation agreement doesn't permit it). That bridge was crossed when left the district - nothing is changed. It's not like he will be actively calling candidates on the district's behalf.

Seems like a tempest in a teapot.

2 people like this
Posted by Exactly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2017 at 2:44 am

Bill Huwett of McPherson & Jacobson said the district's largest challenge will be to find an experienced superintendent who is well-versed at "solving problems publicly and can build trust and respect in doing so."

"Some candidates will look at that as a barrier and some candidates will look at it as a thrill," he said.

The fact that the board ignored this and hired the firm where the superintendent they just got rid of works, does not bode well. This hit the nail on the head.

6 people like this
Posted by before
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2017 at 6:52 am

Before Hazard placed Dr. McGee into a leadership position in its firm, did it call the board for a reference or find the Weekly stories about PAUSD's challenges this year?

If it didn't, what does that say about the thoroughness of its vetting process?

If it did, the personal traits it uncovered that were a mismatch for PAUSD did not bother Hazard. Will those traits concern Hazard when it is out searching for PAUSD's next Superintendent?

4 people like this
Posted by he works for Hazard now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2017 at 10:36 am

Bob and Gethin, what makes you think that there is a conflict? That would mean that a school board member personally benefits from his/her vote to hire McGee’s new company. How could that be?

McGee was hired by Hazard Young because the partners who interviewed him for that job respected him for his connections and expertise in Illinois and now California.

To do their job, they should ask McGee about the rewards and challenges of his time here.

Expect that McGee will talk and be candid.

He works for Hazard Young, not PAUSD, now.

1 person likes this
Posted by Exactly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2017 at 1:12 pm

"To do their job, they should ask McGee about the rewards and challenges of his time here."

The problem with this will be the problem we had with McGee's tenure: biased by the disproportionate influence of staff/employees who had their own CYA things going before he got there and continued it unabated, and against parents with whom he never worked out a way to collaborate to solve problems. Since the latter would have had to involve recognizing and ferreting out employees and behaviors that destroyed trust, and he was unable and/or unwilling to do that, it does not make any sense that giving him disproportionate influence on a superintendant search will be helpful. We need someone who can first and foremost serve the community, not be sucked into the problematic culture again.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Pluto's appears to close after more than two decades in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 14 comments | 7,017 views

What Local Teens are Saying
By Sherry Listgarten | 19 comments | 2,820 views

Plastic vegie bag ban: Pragmatic? -- or simply politically correct?
By Diana Diamond | 35 comments | 2,097 views

Edible Education – Free Course - UC Berkeley Online
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,334 views

Letting Christmas Linger
By Cheryl Bac | 4 comments | 542 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 26 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $7 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.