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Search begins for successor to superintendent

The Palo Alto Board of Education has selected a search firm to help look for the next Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Superintendent. After assessing three search firms to decide which firm will have the most efficient system in gathering a list of superintendent successors, the Board chose to use the Leadership Associates search firm on March 11.

According to School Board Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell, each search firm is made up of a small group of people, some of whom are former superintendents of other districts, that plans to use its own methods to look for qualified candidates. These processes will find a way to advertise and recruit candidates, provide progress reports for the Board and help narrow down the selections to the final few. Caswell believes that the same search firm selection for the superintendent in 2007 was successful, so the Board is using this same procedure and firm to find Dr. Kevin Skelly’s replacement.

On March 10, each of the three search firms had to provide 20- to 30-minute presentations to inform the Board of its overall proposal of finding the next superintendent. After an additional 40 minutes of questioning, the Board decided on Leadership Associates. According to a PAUSD press release given out on March 5, the search firm will use its time from March 17 to March 28 to collect viewpoints from focus groups and community input forums. Although the rest of the dates are not planned, the Board intends to select its final candidate by late April or early May, and he or she will be in place by July 1.

According to School Board President Barbara Mitchell, the superintendent has to chart the vision of the district and work with the Board on strategic planning initiatives and overall improvement goals. Mitchell believes that it is essential for the superintendent to look at the areas where the district is weak and where it continues to be strong, and use advice from both the community and the Board to make critical decisions. School Board member Dana Tom thinks that the variety of opinions will provide a proper balance between stakeholders and the Board’s opinions for the community. “We need a capable leader who can listen well, express himself or herself well, can analyze input well and is always willing to think about decisions and taking into account the best information that they can get,” Tom said.

Mitchell hopes that the search firm will be capable of finding a small number of efficient superintendent candidates who are enthusiastic and looking forward to the job. However, she believes that the overall process of looking for the next superintendent may be a difficult challenge, despite the search firm’s understanding of the ideal candidate.  According to Mitchell and Tom, there are a lot of qualifications and requirements for one to become a superintendent, and the Board expects a candidate with a lot of experience. “It’s hard to find one person who is everything that we want or expect,” Mitchell said.

Tom says that there is a large learning component for a superintendent to get to know the community, staff and the overall strategic plans for the future. He expects the next superintendent to work within that framework and try to make the most progress toward achieving the Board’s main goals. In addition, Caswell believes that the next superintendent will have to be focused on maintaining and improving excellence for PAUSD, as well as the academic and socioemotional excellence for students. “We want someone who is excited [and enthusiastic] in doing this job, and maps to the culture of our community,” Caswell says. “This is an excellent district, and we need an excellent and charismatic person to run it.”

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