The Board of Education took the first step toward hiring a new superintendent Wednesday evening with the selection of a search firm.
The San Marcos-based Leadership Associates was selected from among the five firms that interviewed for the job.
“They have a very sound track record and in fact many people have said that they are the best search group in the state of California,” Board President Terry Doran said of the group. The consultant will work with extensive input from the board.
Members took the selection of a search firm quite seriously.
Doran said Berkeley residents will monitor the way the selection is handled. They will look critically at how seriously the board takes issues of diversity and community input. “I think we have an opportunity to send a message to our community by the process we follow,” Doran said.
Board members focused on the consultants’ ability to find a diverse group of candidates with experience working in an urban school district, Doran said.
“The pool of qualified people of color is not very large,” he said. “It’s important to have a group that can recruit aggressively within that small group.”
According to the consultants, finding those candidates is becoming more and more difficult. Paul Plath of Springfield, Ore.-based PNR Associates said the number of qualified applicants is actually shrinking. “There’s an age range of people that are retiring,” he said. “There hasn’t been attention to the preparation of urban education leaders.”
In order to find a suitable candidate, board members agreed they would need a nationwide search.
Board members asked whether a California-based firm would have the networking resources to conduct an in-depth nationwide search. But, said Doran, large national firms have their own down sides. “Will they know what we need in Berkeley, California?” he asked.
Another important issue in the hiring process is the ability to balance the applicant’s need for confidentiality with the need for community input. The consultants reiterated the fact that many of the best candidates are not actively looking for a new position. Jake Abbott of Leadership Associates estimated that 80 percent of the candidates they approach are not actively looking for new positions. “It’s almost like cold calling salesmen,” he said.
When approached, successful superintendents may be interested in exploring the possibility a move to Berkeley, but do not want to jeopardize their current positions, consultants said. “Sitting superintendents are very worried about applying for positions and having their confidentiality protected,” Abbott said.
If the community is involved in the selection process, and the name of a candidate is leaked, he or she may withdraw from the application process, they said, limiting Berkeley’s ability to ensure the highest quality of candidate. Some possibilities for community inclusion were holding forums and interviews to determine the desired qualities of the new superintendent, and allowing a community board to interview the top candidates. The Board of Education will have the final say on how much the community is involved at each stage of the hiring process.
In addition to Leadership Associates and PNR Associates, the board interviewed California School Board Association of Sacramento, RBL Enterprises, Ltd. of Oakland, and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. of Glenview, Ill.
Doran said all the bids hovered around $30,000 with an estimated time line of three to five months. The board hopes to hire a new superintendent by July, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
On Friday, the board will hold a closed session meeting to interview five candidates for the position of interim superintendent.