Dr. Alan Leis of HYA will lead the search for a new Superintendent of District 65

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

On Nov. 4, during a two-hour session facilitated by Dr. Alan Leis of HYA, the Board decided on the parameters of the search process.  One difficult issue – if and when to disclose the identities of potential candidates – was not decided. Board members recognized that confidentiality is necessary to attract a large pool of qualified candidates. How to balance that with the desire to introduce the final three or four candidates to the community remains a thorny issue.

Successful superintendents may be unwilling to put their names in for consideration if the fact they are looking for a position in another school district might become public, said Dr. Leis.

The Selection of HYA

On Oct. 29, 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 Evanston’s diverse community 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 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 the firm’s commitment to engage the District’s diverse community in developing a profile for the new superintendent, Dr. Leis’s prior experience in a diverse school district similar to Evanston’s, HYA’s ability to conduct a nationwide search, and a report that all feedback in a check of references was positive.

Dr. Leis will be the leader of HYA’s search team. He was superintendent of Naperville Community Unit School District No. 203 for six years and before that a teacher and then an administrator in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia for 33 years. Other members of the search team are Dr. Diana McCaulely, a former school board member of a school district in Bloomington, Ill., 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 25 years experience; it has conducted more than 1,000 searches for educational executives, and 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.

Before settling on HYA, 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; it 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 the student-growth component of a teacher-appraisal system and it is doing the calculations of student growth. A majority of the Board either viewed the relationship as a positive factor or they felt 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 relationship with the District as a negative factor.

Claudia Garrison said she personally preferred b.w.p. and that HYA/ECRA’ relationship with the District was a matter of concern. She said, though, that she thought HYA would do a good job, and she voted to retain HYA in what was apparently a gesture 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.

Developing a Profile for the New Superintendent

“One of the strengths of HYA 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.

The HYA search team will conduct interviews with individual Board members; they will gather community input through interviews, focus groups or general forums: and they will solicit information through a research-based survey, said Dr. Leis.

“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.”

Meetings, Focus Groups and Forums. During meetings, focus groups and forums, the HYA search team 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.”

The Board quickly agreed that HYA should gather input from administrators, principals, teachers, support staff, students, former school board members, the PTA Council, religious leaders, business leaders, and representatives of School District 202 and Northwestern University.

Board members also asked that community organizations that the District is partnering with, such as Youth Organization Umbrella and McGaw Y be included in the process. They also asked that representatives of community groups such as the Evanston Community Foundation, the Childcare Network of Evanston and other early childhood providers, the Evanston Chapter of the NAACP, Latino Resources, the Chessman Club, the  Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Family Focus, Fleetwood Jordain Community Center, the Moran Center, Citizens for an Appropriate Education and others be invited to participate in focus groups or forums.

It is anticipated that several meetings or forums will be open to teachers and anyone in the community who wishes to express their views. Board members asked that a community forum be held at Fleetwood Jordain. Dr. Weis said HYA would plan to spend four days during the week of Dec. 2 gathering information in the District.

The Online Survey. The online survey is designed to gather information regarding the characteristics that stakeholders view as important in a new superintendent, Dr. Leis said. The survey lists 25 characteristics of a superintendent (a few of which were tweaked by the Board). Stakeholders are asked to identify what they view as the eight most important characteristics of the new superintendent. The survey provides space for open-ended comments, and asks stakeholders to identify anyone they think would be a qualified candidate for superintendent.

Persons taking the survey will be asked to classify themselves in one of six groups: administrator, teacher, staff, parent, student (the survey is open to middle school and high school students) or community member. Board members asked that the survey collect demographic information on parents and community members to shed light on whether the survey responses are representative of the community. Persons interested in completing the survey may access it on District 65’s website and complete it anytime before Dec. 10.

Once input is gathered through this process, HYA will present a Leadership Profile Report to the Board in an open session meeting on Dec. 16. The Board can then use the information to develop a profile for the new superintendent, which HYA will use to advertise the position and to frame its search. HYA also said it will use the information gathered through this process in selling the District to potential candidates.

The Interview Process 

In addition to advertising the position, Dr. Leis said HYA will use its 100 associates around the country to recommend candidates who match the profile. HYA will also draw on its contacts with associations of African American and Latino superintendents, said Dr. Leis. They will actively solicit potential candidates.

HYA will conduct “fairly extensive” pre-interviews of 15 to 25 of the top candidates, said Dr. Leis. After that HYA will bring seven or eight candidates to the Board to interview. The Board decided to set aside time to interview those candidates in the evening of Feb. 27 and all day on March 1, 2013. The Board will then decide on three or four of those candidates for further interviews.

The Board did not decide how the final interviews will be conducted. Dr. Leis said some superintendents will not put their name in for consideration if their names will become public, because they do not want to jeopardize their current position if they are not selected.

Board members uniformly said they wanted to attract the widest pool of qualified candidates, and they appeared inclined to maintain the confidentiality of applicants at least up until they narrowed the field to the final three or four candidates. Dr. Leis outlined three options: 1) the names of the final three or four candidates be made public and community forums held to meet the candidates; 2) the names not be made public, but the Board appoint a staff/community committee to interview the finalists and provide feedback, subject to a confidentiality agreement; and 3) the Board maintain confidentiality and announce its selection.

Board president Tracy Quattrocki said she hoped they could announce the names of the final three or four candidates and introduce each candidate separately at a community forum. Other Board members appeared to favor this approach. No decision, however, was made on how to handle interviews of the final three or four candidates.

Board members will likely make site visits to gather information on the finalists, which would require making their candidacy public. HYA will arrange for formal background checks.

The plan is to hire a new superintendent by April 1.

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...