Superintendent Search Forum Observational Summary

Note:  We received this from a parent who attended multiple superintendent forums.

Below is an observational summary of some of the Jeffco School Superintendent Search Forums. They are NOT official notes and should not be considered as exactly what Ray and Assoc. will say when they present to the board, but they should be helpful to those not able to attend.

Above all else, PLEASE take the time to fill out the district survey on this topic whether you attended or not AND encourage all of your friends and neighbors with or without children to do the same. Explanation is later. The survey link is:  The DEADLINE is March 28 @ 5 pm. Since many of us will be on Spring Break, please send and encourage early participation.

This is long, but, hopefully, informative. This is what one person heard. If others heard something different or have more to add, please chime in. This is meant to be informative, not exclusive.

There are three phases to this process:

Phase 1: Pick a Search Firm (Ray & Associates), Set Salary & Timeline (Salary set around $280K, significantly more than the previous Superintendent was making although the board members’ advocates complained vehemently about her salary) and Get the Board’s feedback individually (Completed)

Phase 2: Gather Community Input (In process) and develop profile from all of the feedback by April 3. There are about 35 groups that Ray & Associates are interviewing over this week. (Editorial Note: I can’t come up with 39 groups, so will be curious to see who they are and if they will be given weighted or equal significance.) Open the search from April 3-April 25. Results of the community input process are expected to be presented at the April 3 Board Meeting. The presentation is expected to be the results of the groups AND presentation of the common themes across the different community input sessions.

Phase 3: Candidate Selection TO BE COMPLETED BY May 5 using a “Forced Choice Matrix” process to require choices to be made without lots of hand-wringing and discussion so that the politics are reduced in the process. We should expect to meet the final candidate in some public venue/forum and MAYBE a couple of finalists, but NOT a large group of candidates. The goal is to have the person in place by July 1-ish so they can start at the beginning of the district’s fiscal year.

OPEN FORUMS – Results of Conifer, Wed. Open & PTA/Accountability
Ray & Associates representatives did a great job managing the room and drawing out answers to the following basic questions. The goal is to identify the themes across the sessions that will drive the scope of the candidate profile. Themes from these three seem to be resonating in other forums as well.

1. What are the qualities and attributes the board should be looking for in a candidate?

2. What demeanor should the successful candidate have?

3. What should the candidate know that is going right with the district?

4. What should the candidate know that will be issues needing to be addressed?

First, I was very excited to see new faces at these venues, in addition to the usual suspects. Clearly a new generation of community members and parents are interested and stepping up for their kids. In general, the size of these groups seems to be around 20-30 people.

While there were many answers to many questions, the themes I identified from the three sessions I attended were these:

1. Qualities/Attributes:
a. Respectful Listener – Approachable
b. Inclusive – able to handle conflict so that all people feel heard and respected
c. Embraces conflict
d. Great communicator both in the community and individually
e. Inspirational leader
f. Track Record of successful leadership in education, particularly from a large district
g. Knows how to build strong trust and strong teams
h. Commitment to high performance and striving for excellence
i. Traditional Educational background OR Hybrid background NOT Non-Traditional (NOTE: this is important because the board has told Ray & Assoc. that they will accept any of the above. When asked how Ray & Assoc. will resolve the difference between this theme and the board, the representative said they will open the search to all AND make sure candidates know what the forums showed.)
j. Someone with business sense, but not someone who thinks schools are a business
k. Knows the difference between real reform and fads/political buzzwords
l. Can manage THIS board (Ray & Assoc. shared in each session that, in fact, this is now at least 40% of any Superintendent’s job these days, particularly in a large district, but it isn’t clear whether Ray & Assoc. gets the dynamics of this particular board. They seem clear that they have worked with split boards before and can still succeed.)

2. Demeanor:
a. Collaborative
b. Passion for learning for ALL learners and learning styles
c. Sense of Humor (only ONE person in all the sessions brought this up, but the Ray & Assoc. representative really resonated with this and thought it was important. The efforts of participants has been so intense, it is easy to see how this could be lost yet so important)
d. Easily approachable – as comfortable with CEOs as with children and families

3. What’s Going Right?
a. Diverse district
b. High performing district – recognized not just in district, but across the state and the US
c. Strong PTA and community involvement and support
d. Sense of community ( this scribe hadn’t ever thought of this, but someone mentioned how so many employees have family ties as a student/grandchild/child of Jeffco school district and that so many students return to Jeffco to teach. Can be very cool!)
e. Outdoor Lab and other unique contributors to learning
f. Staff strive for excellence and push each other to succeed
g. Strong leadership bench (this was raised often, but with the acknowledgement that people are leaving in droves not only at the district level, but also at the school level.)
h. Strongly data-driven in decision-making processes (could also be seen as a weakness. some people interpret it as exclusionary to other important educational elements that benefit the whole child and help them connect positively to the learning process)

4. What problems will the person face?
a. Distrust and controversy at the board level that has seeped down to all levels of the community
b. Very low staff morale, esp. teachers
c. Funding – particular scarcity
d. A divided board steeped in politics (both “P” and “p”)

Additional Notes:
1. The community survey on the budget had more than 13,000 responses (usual response rate is about 2,000). The results of the survey were shared with Ray & Assoc. and they have said they will share those results with candidates. It was also pointed out, however, that the board does not value these comments and have questioned their validity. An internal audit was done on the survey to see if it had been gamed by multiple answers by single people OR if it was not statistically valid for different areas/elements of the district. The internal audit showed a 98% validity. This is not well known, nor is it something that the board acknowledges. It was pointed out that this is a good example of the kind of issue the new candidate will face – good solid data representing the interests of the community and ignored/discounted by the board.

2. Ray & Associates feels that 2000 responses to the survey is a good showing. If there is a large turnout on the survey, like the turnout on the community survey, that will speak volumes. Please spread the word and encourage your friends and colleagues to complete it.