Dr. Alan Leis addresses the District 65 School Board on Oct. 29.

At the end of a four-hour meeting on Oct. 29, the District 65 School Board decided by a 5 to 1 vote to retain Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), owned by the ECRA Group, in Rosemont, Illinois,  to assist in the search for a new superintendent.

The Board interviewed representatives of four search firms for the job, all of which appeared to have high credentials and relatively similar approaches.

In the interviews, Board members asked representatives a set of general questions that included how the firm would reach out to the diverse community in Evanston to help define the qualifications – or a profile – for the new superintendent, how the firm would identify candidates that would fit the needs of the District’s racially and diverse community, and what strategies the firm would use in recruiting potential candidates and providing background checks of the candidates.

Board members also asked questions specific to each firm, generally to tease out information about searches that reportedly had gone bad in the past.

The things that seemed to influence a majority of the Board in favor of HYA were its commitment to engage the District’s diverse community in developing a profile for the new superintendent,  the search team leader’s prior experience in a diverse  school district similar to Evanston, its ability to conduct a nationwide search, and all feedback in a check of references was positive.

HYA’s Approach

The team that will conduct the search process are Dr. Alan Leis, a retired superintendent of Naperville Community Unit School District No. 203 for six years and a teacher and administrator in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia for 33 years; Dr. Diana McCaulely, a former member of a school district in Bloomington, Illinois; and Dr. Pamela Hollich, a retired superintendent of Brookwood School District No. 167 and a former principal.

“There is gender diversity; there’s experience diversity; there’s race diversity on this team,” said Dr. Leis.

He added that HYA has 25years experience, that is has conducted more than 1,000 searches for educational executives, and that it has a nationwide network of more than 100 associates in 27 states. HYA merged into ECRA in 2010, giving it research expertise, he said.

“One of the strengths of HY&A is we spend and devote a lot of attention to the planning phase,” said Dr. Leis. “That’s where we figure out what you want and what the community wants, and we work very hard in getting that input.” The purpose is to develop a profile for the new superintendent.

At the start, HY&A conducts a two-hour planning session with the Board to plan out the search. They conduct interviews with individual Board members, and they gather community input through interviews, focus groups or general forums (open to everyone).

“The community outreach is going to be critically important,” said Dr. Leis. “We need to think about going into the community, whether that be into churches, or into community groups or into forums. We need to make sure we’re reaching all parts of your very diverse community.”

HY&A typically asks people to comment on “what’s great about this District, … what are the two or three biggest challenges a new superintendent must be able to deal with or address, …  [and] what personal or professional characteristics are necessary to lead the District forward.”

He added, “We need to build trust and confidence with your teachers and employee groups so they believe we’re about, in a very transparent way, finding the very best superintendent.”

 HYA will also administer a research-based survey to stakeholders, designed to gather information regarding the characteristics that stakeholders view as important in a new superintendent, Dr. Leis said. The survey typically provides space for open-ended comments.

Once input is gathered, HY&A will present a report to the Board in open session, said Dr. Leis. The Board can then use the information to develop a profile for the new superintendent, which HY&A will use to advertise the position and to frame its search. HY&A also said it will use the information gathered through this process in selling the District to potential candidates.  

In addition to advertising, Dr. Leis said HY&A will use its 100 associates around the country to recommend and to seek recommendations from their contacts for a superintendent that matches the profile. They will actively solicit potential candidates. HY&A will generally conduct “fairly extensive” interviews of 15 to 25 candidates, and then bring 5 to 7 to the Board. He said HY&A has always been able to bring back a “diverse pool of candidates.” They also do background checks.

HYA’s Prior Relationships with D65

The Board discussed the pros and cons of HYA’s prior relationships with District 65: HYA assisted in the District’s last search for a superintendent; HYA facilitated in the development of the District’s last five-year strategic plan; ECRA (HYA’s owner) has conducted surveys for the District; and ECRA has worked with the District to develop a teacher appraisal system. A majority of the Board either viewed the prior relationship as a positive factor or thought it did not outweigh other factors supporting their decision in favor of HYA.

Suni Kartha, who cast the sole no vote, said she preferred another search firm, b.w.p and associates, because their answers to questions were very specific, including how they would seek diverse candidates, and they had done prior research on the District and were prepared. This “gave me a level of confidence in them,” she said. She also viewed HYA/ECRA’s prior relationship with the District as a negative factor.

Claudia Garrison said she personally preferred b.w.p. and was concerned that HYA/ECRA had a relationship with the DIstrict, but thought HYA would do a good job. She appeared to vote to retain HYA in a sign of unity with a majority of the Board.

HYA’s base fee for the services rendered by its search team is $14,500. The District will also be responsible for expenses, such as advertising costs, travel costs and a formal background check of the final candidate.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...