Source: Palo Alto Pulse
Written by Ryan Li
The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) is conducting a search for a new superintendent following the resignation of Dr. Max McGee last September. The school district has hired the educational consulting firm Hazard, Young Attea and Associates (HYA) to conduct the search. According to the district’s timeline, a new superintendent will begin serving July 1 this year.
Assistant Interim Superintendent Anne Brown says the superintendent selection process is primarily left up to the consulting firm. “They vet and they have everyone apply,” she said. “They bring a group of those who they think are the top candidates to be interviewed and afterwards, they choose somebody.” However, it is ultimately up to the board which candidates will fill the position.
Student and community opinions were collected via survey, focus groups and town hall meetings. The findings were compiled into a list of desirable traits and survey results, as well as a leadership profile report presented at a board meeting on Feb 13. The documents emphasized leadership management roles as well as engaging student and community stakeholders in the district. Some of the desired credentials include “a demonstrated track record of working in a high performing, diverse environment” and “an earned doctorate in an accredited university.”
The consulting firm held meetings with focus groups of randomly selected students to gather input at both high schools, such as the one in January in the Gunn staff lounge. Freshman Sachait Arun was part of the focus group. “At our table and the next one, there was a lot of talk about how dissatisfied we were about the new SELF program,” he said. “Even people who weren’t freshman were complaining about the schedule burden and how little it is helping. There was also talk about how little humanities there were, and even a light fun conversation about how there was a lot of mud near the construction site that made it hard to walk through.” Arun says he and others are interested in a leader who, above all else, would listen to students and interact cohesively with the student body.
A survey was also made available online and on paper in the Palo Alto libraries to gauge community attitudes towards the district and preferred traits in a superintendent. According to the leadership profile report, 1043 people, including 47 students, 49 community members, 208 teachers, 604 parents, and 59 support staff, responded to the survey. Participants were asked to pick the four most desired qualities they would like to see out of a list of 12 traits. According to the survey, the most popular trait was the ability to “foster a positive, professional climate of mutual trust and respect among faculty, staff, and administrators.”
HYA also hosted two town halls on Jan. 18 at both high schools concerning the search. Community members, such as Palo Alto High School parent John Fitton, expressed their concerns with the direction the district is heading. “The crisis and the trauma we have all been through with sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the different issues that come up will be one area that would be challenging.” Fitton said. “Re-establishing trust, and a degree of excellence in response and communicating [is] what’s best for the schools.” Fitton believes that the most important of the new superintendent’s responsibilities will be to ensure that all constituents’ voices are being heard, and that students’ needs are placed above all else.
The leadership profile report and survey findings also detailed some strengths and challenges the district faces that a superintendent would have to contend with.
Among the strengths were high confidence in the system and The survey found that 78 percent of students, parents, staff, and administrators rated the performance of PAUSD schools a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. The report emphasized academic excellence as well as high standards set for both teachers and students. During a presentation to the school board about the firm’s findings, HYA Associate Jackie Horejs remarked that the reputation of the district is renowned across the state. “It is essentially a private school education in a public school setting,” she said.
Challenges that PAUSD faces include balancing the social emotional needs of the student body, closing a widening achievement gap and rebuilding trust between the leadership and its. “A consistent message from all stakeholders was the need to build morale and bring all stakeholders together in supporting students in PAUSD,” the firm said in the profile report. “It was clear that the need to build a leadership team with district and site administrators is a priority.”
Board President Ken Dauber says that the new superintendent must be prepared to manage the systematic strain in working in a high -performing school district. “I would like to see a strong manager who can effectively run the school district and make the improvements that we need to make in operations and operational efficiency,” he said. Dauber says that a new superintendent must find a balance between effective management of resources and engaging with a vocal pool of students and parents.
According to Dauber, HYA is currently publicizing the position to attract potential candidates. “They will place advertisements for new superintendent,” he said.” But we have been contacted by a lot of candidates who are interested in the job.” Dauber says that the reason for the abundance in candidates is due to PAUSD’s standing as a reputable school district. However, it is still difficult for the district to tell which candidates would be best suited for the task.
Dauber hopes that a new superintendent will integrate smoothly into the PAUSD system.” I hope that you won’t see significant changes immediately,” he said. “But over time, what you should see is more resources on campus.“
The board will interview finalists and select a superintendent by mid April.