This is how we roll! PAAers share insider tips on school superintendent searches

UPDATE: Boston Globe article on continuing concerns of parents and others about superintendent search here.  Excellent letter from QUEST and other groups regarding needed process and participation for search here.

A while ago we received the following request from QUEST, one of our Boston affiliates:

QUEST is wondering if PAA members in cities where there has recently been a Superintendent search (for example LA and Seattle) have information about how the search was funded. Boston’s mayor recently fired our superintendent, Tommy Chang. (Dr. Chang had his problems, but he wasn’t fired for those, but rather, for not doing the Mayor’s bidding.) We have heard that BPS/City Hall are seeking foundation $ to pay for the search. This raises flags for us in terms of privatization, and foundations having undue input on the super choice. Any info/insights from other cities about whether this is normal practice or its impact would be appreciated.

Here’s the goldmine of information that PAA members shared:

In my experience (in Michigan, where school districts are independent governmental entities, the boards usually hire a recruiting firm to manage the search with their own funds. (Some use the state school board association’s staff.) But in a city like Detroit, I wouldn’t be surprised if foundations kicked in some funding.

I’m not sure that the source of the funds would be my main concern. More important is who the search term is reporting to and who gets to review the applicants. Sounds like Boston’s mayor wants someone he can control. That may be the biggest issue. But to the extent that the foundations are politically influential, they may expect a say as well. So it depends on what their agenda may be.

Steve Norton
MI Parents for Schools


I have been on the Board of Education in Durham, NC during two Superintendent searches. I believe there is a need for an independent search firm because you can not have Board members or district staff
confidentially staff a search without bias. In both recent searches we appropriated local district funds to hire a search firm. We used both a private firm and later used the North Carolina School Boards Association. I preferred the search process conducted by NCSBA. They were skilled and considerably less expensive.

I share the concern about a foundation paying fees for the search firm. Many of the national firms keep a “stable” of candidates they attempt to place. Superintendent tenure nationally is less than 3 years so turnover in leadership is a significant concern.

I’d be glad to talk with QUEST anytime.

Natalie Beyer


In Seattle, we paid for the most recent (2018) search ourselves, from the School Board budget, I believe. The Board should not relinquish oversight of the process to anyone, including foundations and definitely not the mayor. I do not recommend Ray & Associates. Seattle ended up with an apparently
solid new supe in Denise Juneau, in spite of Ray & Associates (who snuck a Broadie into the final 3, and other questionable actions, such as failing to disclose some important aspects of its history with the Seattle School District.)

Sue Peters (former Seattle School Board member)


I would emphasize when posting that firms and search consultants first option is always to place someone from their “stable,” often ones they’ve has trouble placing. So it’s not really a search.

Peter Smyth (NC)


I am in Lower Merion, PA and our search firm was a scam. We are a wealthy, suburban Philadelphia school district under reform attack. It is being done differently in the burbs, but the reforms are the same. Our district NEVER used a search company until this superintendent and he is awful. He won awards in NJ under Chris Christie. I am wary for you.

Danielle Arnold-Schwartz


A couple or years ago in Portland the search for a superintendent turned into a chaotic mess. In general, Oregon’s education leadership is a mess. I write a little about that in this blog post.

Ultimately, a new superintendent was chosen — hired in a hurry with little public scrutiny or input so he would be in place before the school year began. He had no obvious corporate ties. I think that is a testament to the work PAAO did to vet the previous candidate. He has a huge job to do because PPS is also a mess. Too soon to tell if he will be for kids or corporations. We are forever vigilant.

Keep us apprised of who the finalists are.

Deb Mayer

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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