Board-Savvy Superintendent                        Page 11


What To Seek in Your

Next Board




During three decades of working with school boards, my consulting partner and I have conducted more than 100 searches for many of those boards’ next superintendents. We have helped each board define precisely what it was looking for in its next leader and to find, yes, the Perfect Match.

But what’s happening on the other side of this dance? Superintendents often fail to discriminate appropriately in searching for their Perfect Match with a governing board. Commonly, highly skilled administrators accept job offers from boards that have established themselves as burial grounds for previous leaders, believing they can tame any tiger. They rarely succeed.

Administrators are the buyers in today’s market. Superintendent candidates might consider this advice.

Rigorously assess your own viability. Resist the temptation of assuming you are a master of everything related to running a school district. You are not. Regardless of how successful you have been, how solid your training is or how strong your resume is, there are some things you know less about than others. Objectively decide what your strong suits are, and depend on them to guide your ultimate decision about accepting an offer.

Further, decide whether your style of leadership is compatible with what the board is seeking, and determine in advance whether you are willing to do the job the board wants you to do.

Do your homework with diligence.What are the board and its members truly like? How do they behave when the spotlight is turned off? Is what you see what you get, or in real life does the board become something else?

Go beyond Google. Interview people who know what really is behind the press. Consider talking with state school boards and administrator associations, local people in business and civic leadership who are considered objective and trustworthy, administrators in adjacent districts, and any other sources who can tell you straight how effective the board actually is. If issues are identified that cause concern, don’t be afraid to discuss them with the board. The board should be eager to tell its side of any negative publicity.

Why did the last superintendent leave? If the change was involuntary, find out whether he or she was treated fairly. Some involuntary departures are justified, while others are not. You need to know in order to avoid the potential for being caught in the same web.

Interview the board. Boards always have a prepared set of questions to ask candidates. Have your own set of questions — and make them pointed. Ask the board to describe its ideal working relationship with its superintendent; the difference in the two roles; its governing style; its own commitment to coaching and training; the leadership style the board is looking for; what topics dominate board meetings; and the process envisioned for superintendent evaluation.

The main point is this: Approach the interview session with an attitude that you and the board are on equal footing as buyers and sellers, each operating from the same position of strength.

But a bit of care should be exercised here, as well. Avoid the appearance of arrogance. The board should not be placed in a defensive position, but it should not be offended to learn that applicants have as much at stake as the board does. Deliver a strong message but with a soft style.

Find the match. Be deliberate and honest with yourself and with the board throughout the search process. Probe to find out all you need to know to make a wise, well-informed decision. Do not fear saying no to an offer if the answers you get from the board don’t match your needs and expectations.

When good matches are consummated, the district, board, and your own morale and confidence will soar. And inevitably, when the shine wears off, the shared values, understanding and focus that brought you and your board together become the glue that hold you together. Find the match.


Linda Dawson is a senior partner with AGI: Aspen Group International in Gulf Shores, Ala. E-mail: aspen@aspengroup.org. Randy Quinn, also a senior partner with the firm, contributed to this column.


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