Education & Government
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Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

Using technology to successfully navigate the superintendent search

August 14, 2023
0 min read
Using technology to successfully navigate the superintendent search

Like many boards of education, my board embarked on a superintendent search this past year. It is a daunting task — arguably the most important task you will undertake as a board member. With superintendent resignations and retirements surging, the job of finding a superintendent is becoming more frequent. This means there are fewer candidates in the pool, creating more competition for the best superintendents.

Here are several steps to take when embarking on a superintendent search, as well as tips for using technology to make the search easier and your district more attractive to potential candidates.

Board preparation for superintendent search

There are a number of steps involved in the search for the right superintendent:

The board needs to come together and get on the same page

Depending on why the departing superintendent is leaving, there may have been disagreements among board members. It is time to put differences aside and leave the past behind. It will take a dedicated effort on the board members' part to move forward together.

Bringing past disagreements forward will lessen the likelihood that the new superintendent will stay long. Unite along your beliefs and values and use these to guide your search. Student achievement should always be the focus of the board.

Conduct a realistic assessment

Your board needs to conduct a realistic assessment of what you have to offer. This is not only from a financial standpoint (salary and benefits), but from the view of what makes your district attractive.

  • Are you financially sound?
  • Is staff attrition low?
  • Are your students successful academically?
  • Will the board support the new superintendent and allow them to grow professionally?
  • What does the community have to offer?

Create a list of reasons why someone would want to move to your district and add these to the job announcement to help sell your district. The list can also be shared through your board portal for those committee members involved in interviewing.

Stay informed

The superintendent search is a process, and you need to learn as much as you can as fast as you can. Attend education sessions at conferences to learn how other districts have done it.

Use your network to gain insight into the processes others have used. Ask around to find out what companies conduct searches and what other districts’ experiences were with them.

Study your policy

Review your policy and find out what criteria exists for the superintendent search, including what laws govern employment of a superintendent. Remind all board members of the board and superintendent's roles.

You can link these policies in a document to keep handy in your board software library or link them to an agenda. You will want them for easy reference.

Foster community involvement

There are many ways to involve the community. You can include members on your interview team, you can form a search committee — even a simple survey will help you gather information about what the community finds important.

Get ready for some criticism — it may happen. If it does, recognize that it is all part of the process. If the community is going to be a welcoming home for your new administrator, their voices need to be heard.

Key questions the board must answer before starting a superintendent search

What time frame are you working with?

As you begin your search, you will need to work off the superintendent’s planned start date. A search will take a minimum of 4-6 months. Decide when you want the superintendent to start and work backward from there. Will they be starting during the summer break? Do you want them to start at the midterm?

Superintendents can and do start at any time during the school year depending on contracts. Some districts want the superintendents to overlap so there can be a transition period and, in some instances, that is not possible. This is one of the first decisions at which you will need to arrive.

What will the search budget be?

What does your district have in the budget for a superintendent search? It will cost money regardless of how it is done. There are legal contracts to deal with, and the cost of a search firm, if you choose to use one. It is customary to pay travel to any candidate that you ask to come in for an interview.

Many districts serve meals to get to know the candidate in an informal setting. Posting job notices widely on a number of websites and publications will cost. There are other countless small costs associated with an increased number of meetings. (Save your budget details on your board management solution so you have it for reference for future superintendent searches.)

Who conducts the search?

This is a weighty question. Sometimes boards opt to do the search themselves, and sometimes they hire an outside consultant or firm. The human resource concerns often point to using a firm that is well versed and focuses primarily on this service. Certain questions are illegal. Take note of interview protocols, and stay on top of criminal background checks.

An oft-forgotten consideration is that if an elected official is communicating in the capacity of his or her job, the correspondence can likely be subject to an open records request. Given the need for confidentiality, most superintendent candidates will not want this information made public.

If the board chooses to conduct their own search, it is recommended that an attorney be available to advise as they go through the process. Search firms often have a cadre of potential candidates and often will point someone in the direction of your job that might not have applied otherwise.

Who will serve as contact point?

Deciding on a contact point is another detail that is critical in a successful superintendent search. During a search, boards will have more meetings than usual. Who will post the notices and create the agendas? Who will unlock and lock the building for meetings? Who will greet the candidates at the door and lead them to a waiting area?

If you provide meals or snacks, they need to be ordered in compliance with the district’s purchasing procedures. These sound like trivial details, but again, the need for confidentiality complicates the answers somewhat.

Even if the board chooses to use a search firm, there will need to be a point of contact. In some cases, the outgoing superintendent may assist with this. However, many times this is not possible or not preferred. These questions need to be decided before you embark on the search.

Do you need an interim?

Sometimes this decision will make itself clear. If a superintendent makes their departure before a board can go through the selection process, an interim will be a necessity. Think about other times an interim could be helpful and prepare accordingly.

If there are significant changes that the board wants to make, sometimes an interim is a good consideration so that the new superintendent isn’t weighed down with unpopular decisions at the outset of their term.

These may be things like fiscal reductions, redistricting or personnel changes. It can also be the case that a long-term superintendent is leaving, and the district is going through a culture shift.

An experienced interim superintendent can help in this process by paving the way for the next superintendent to have a smooth transition. If there is turmoil in the district regarding the leadership change, an interim can help bring calm — in part because most interim superintendents are experienced administrators.

Because they do not plan to stay in the district, interims can serve in the roles of mediator and transition agent to help create an atmosphere where the new superintendent can enact their plans and thrive from the beginning.

How do we handle inside candidates?

Inside candidates are people from inside the district that might want to apply for the position. In some cases, it is obvious — an assistant superintendent or other administrator. In other cases, it might be less obvious; quite a few people have superintendent credentials.

The board needs to decide before opening the job if they will begin by looking at internal candidates. If there is a current employee that has been with the district in an administrative capacity, the board must determine the best way to approach this.

Would a search service be necessary if there is an “heir apparent”? What if there is more than one internal candidate? These are decisions the board should make in advance of moving forward with interviews.

Will the applicant’s family be involved in the process?

In a position like the superintendent, the family may be an integral part of the district. With today’s fast paced profession, some superintendents prefer not to move their families. They may opt to live in the district during the week and go home on weekends — some may commute from neighboring districts.

If the family will be moving to the district, the board may consider inviting the family for a meal at one of the interviews. Most superintendents will tell you that the decision to accept head administrative positions involved their family too. No matter how the board proceeds at the application level, if an administrator moves their family to town, be sure to welcome them.

Technology as a key tool in superintendent search

The applicant's journey

Just as the board is embarking on a search, so is the superintendent. A conversation with some experienced superintendents revealed what they were looking for in their search. They each mentioned that they regularly looked at job offerings on electronic sites maintained by reputable search firms.

The size of the district and community was also important, as well as the demographics and how well the community is evolving to meet new demographic challenges. Most superintendents have an ideal size they target. When they are considering a job, the superintendents mention that they turn to technology.

Your public site matters for superintendent candidates assessing your district.

Board’s screening criteria

Just as most boards do, when my board began getting applicants, we turned to the internet. We searched for the person to find any articles or notifications, and also examined their social media presence. Due to confidentiality, it is difficult to utilize personal connections, but sometimes information can be gleaned from casual conversations.

The website of an applicant’s district will offer more details about their leadership personality and the culture created in the current district. Looking at agenda items and minutes from prior boards can help determine what the superintendent values and the culture they strive to create.

District staff can compile resumes and key points on each candidate, and create a document that interviewing board members or committees can easily access through your board software.

Attracting the best applicants

In a conversation with our newly positioned superintendent, I asked him what led him to us, as I wondered what the process was on his side. In addition to seeking the right fit for him professionally, he also considered the cultural fit for his family.

The fact that we used a search firm known for fair searches encouraged him to look deeper. Although he was familiar with our community he visited our website to learn more about the district.

After he browsed the usual things that often appear on district websites (sports teams, school calendars, etc.) he looked at the board members' credentials and when they had been elected; this gave him a sense of their commitment to their community and whether the community was open to change.

He also examined agendas and minutes to get a sense of the board's culture. Surveys posted for community input demonstrated the strong relationship between the community and the district. Financial reports showed how the district was managing its budget.

In short, our digital footprint represented a district that was attractive to him. We are happy we found the right fit.

Review your district’s digital footprint

Today, technology is so easy to access and contains a mass of data. With school boards being mostly public entities, their history is on the internet. Think of your digital footprint and what it says to potential candidates. When candidates can be choosier in looking for a position, it pays for your district to be intentional in your messaging.

  • Are you a data savvy district?
  • Are you financially well positioned to draw the best candidates?
  • Does your agenda support your goals, and is it available (along with backup materials) on the internet?

Education is not going backward, so you want to select a new administrator that will fit well and move your district forward.

Fortunately, technology can help make your search easier. Learn more about Diligent Community and how it can help support your school board as you go about your superintendent search.


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