Dr. Mark Friedman and Dr. Debra Hill, at the July 18 School Board meeting.

At a specially called School Board meeting on July 18, representatives of BWP & Associates, the District’s Superintendent search consultants, discussed the process they had in mind to search for an Interim Superintendent for School District 65 for the 2019-2020 school year, and for a Superintendent starting with the 2020-2021 school year. The BWP team that will lead this process consists of Debra A. Hill, Mark Friedman, and Anne Noland, each of whom holds a doctorate degree and previously served as a superintendent.

Dr. Hill, the Managing Director of BWP, worked for District 65 for 24 years, including as an interim Superintendent in the 1998-1999 school year. She then served as Superintendent for West Northfield School District 31 for seven years. Dr. Hill has worked with many Evanston community organizations and is an Evanston resident.

Dr. Friedman is a retired Superintendent of Libertyville Elementary School District 70, in north suburban Libertyville, Illinois, and is currently president of BWP. Dr. Noland is a retired Superintendent of Forest Ridge School District 142 in south suburban Oak Forest.

Hiring an Interim Superintendent

Dr. Friedman said BWP had already started the search for an Interim Superintendent, and they had the names of about five or six people who expressed an interest in the position. He said they were experienced, successful people. “If you were looking at them for Superintendent, they would be good candidates,” he said.

Dr. Friedman said that a person must be certified by the State to be a Superintendent in order to serve as an Interim Superintendent, and as a practical matter most people who are qualified for the position are retired superintendents. Retired superintendents may only work 120 days a year, or else they risk losing their pensions, he said. 

Dr. Friedman said that the Board could hire one retired superintendent to serve as an Interim Superintendent, but added that it would be difficult for one person who was limited to working a maximum of 120 days a year to do the job effectively.

He said BWP thus recommended hiring two people to share the position, with each to work about 100 days a year. He said School Districts do this quite often. He added that the typical pay of an interim superintendent is about $1,000 to $1,200 per day, and if the District paid two interim superintendents to each work 100 hours, the cost would be about $200,000 to $240,000, which would be less that the salary of a full-time superintendent.

Board members quickly agreed on hiring two Interim Superintendents.  Board President Suni Kartha said it was important to have someone available every day. Board member Joey Hailpern said if there was only one Interim Superintendent, it would place an additional burden on the other administrators.

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said it was important that anyone the Board considered must have “a very strong understanding of racial  justice in the context of education” and that “experience alone is not enough.”

Dr. Friedman said the Interim Superintendent’s “role is maintaining the culture and supporting the staff and keeping things going that are already underway. … This is more hold things down, keep on top of stuff. Bring some new ideas, absolutely.  Use the talent that’s already in this District, the administrative and teaching talent, and move from there.” But, he added, the Interim Superintendent is not a change agent.

Ms. Kartha said, though, “We do want to make sure that it’s somebody who is committed to moving us forward on the work that we’re doing, somebody who can feel comfortable using the racial equity assessment impact tool is important. Later on we’re going to be talking about priorities for the upcoming year – so somebody who feels like they can come in and help move those priorities forward, I think it is an important part of what we’re looking for. Even though it’s an interim year,  we don’t want it to necessarily be a stagnant year.”

Ms. Tanyavutti added, “The challenge is that we are in the middle of change. … It’s important that we have someone who is not uncomfortable with having conversations about race, with having conversations about systematic racism, with having conversations from their racial lens in the context of education and the context of a leader in education. I don’t think we can make a selection or identify candidates without that being at the top of our priorities in terms of a leadership profile.”

She added that she thought these characteristics were essential for both the Interim Superintendent and the Superintendent.

Dr. Hill said, “We’re talking about this in a vacuum.” She said that when the Board interviewed candidates they could explore whether the candidate had the cultural values they were looking for in the position.

Dr. Friedman said BWP would plan on submitting the names of about four candidates for the Board to interview for interim Superintendent in early August. The interviews will likely be done in closed session. The target date for hiring the two interim superintendents is Aug. 18.

Hiring a Superintendent

Dr. Hill summarized the search process for a Superintendent, and the School Board decided on a timetable to ensure they would be in a position to select a new Superintendent on Jan. 13, 2020, or an earlier date if possible.

Community Input and a Superintendent Profile

Dr. Hill said BWP  would initially gather information through individual interviews with members of the School Board and some community leaders, through small focus groups, through a community meeting open to everyone, and through a community-wide survey containing about five questions.

The goal of this process is to gather information about what the community views as the significant strengths of the District, the significant challenges facing the District, the characteristics and skills the next Superintendent will need to be successful, and what people would like the School Board to consider when selecting the new Superintendent, said Dr. Hill. 

The small focus groups will be facilitated by members of the BWP team and will all be conducted on Sept. 12. The survey will be open to everyone in the community, and can be taken between Sept. 3 and 15. The survey will be available online, and people can also complete it in paper format. It will be available in English and Spanish.

Dr. Hill said the BWP team is trying to get the “collective thought and wisdom” of the community and would like to include the voices of everyone in the community, including those who typically are not heard. “We want everyone to feel they had an opportunity to provide input,” she said.

After BWP collects the community’s input, Dr. Hill said the team will put together a report that provides a profile for the new Superintendent. The profile report will be presented to the Board for its review and approval on Sept. 23.

The profile will then be used by BWP in subsequent advertising for the position, in BWP’s screening, interviewing and selecting people to submit to the Board for interviews, and in the Board’s selection of a candidate, said Dr. Hill.

Seeking Applications and Initial Interviews

Between July and September, BWP will actively recruit qualified candidates to apply for the position of Superintendent and to solicit nominations from knowledgeable people in the education field. BWP will use its consultants and contacts across the country to do so. In addition, it plans to place notices of vacancy and ads for the positon in various publications and on websites to attract additional applicants.

The deadline to submit applications for Superintendent will be Oct. 6. As applications come in, the BWP team will review them and conduct background checks. The team will winnow down the field to about 10 to 12 people who best meet the Superintendent profile and interview them between Oct. 13 and Oct. 19. The team will then present a list and information on about five or six candidates to the School Board on Oct. 28. This will take place in closed session.

The goal is to provide the Board with “a diverse pool of outstanding candidates who are seriously interested in serving as your next superintendent,” said BWP.

The Board will conduct interviews of these candidates in closed session meetings on Nov. 12, 13 and 14. “This is the screening. It’s the first round,” said Dr. Friedman.

On Nov. 18, the School Board is scheduled to deliberate on the five or six  candidates in closed session, and then narrow the field to two or three semi-finalists. Dr. Hill told the RoundTable she anticipated that the Board would make its decision selecting two or three semi-finalists in open session, so the community would know who the semi-finalists are at that time.

While there is some concern that people will not apply for the position if they think their name will be made public, Dr. Hill said once the field of applicants is narrowed down to three semi-finalists, she has not seen anyone back away if they were told their names would become public.

The ‘Day in the District’ and Selecting a Superintendent

The two or three semi-finalists will each spend a “Day in the District” on Dec. 2, 3 or 4. During their visit, each candidate may spend time visiting a school or schools. In addition, Dr. Hill said each candidate would meet with focus groups of administrators and teachers, and one or two focus groups of community members. In addition, a community meeting – open to everyone in the community – will be held in the early evening; at these meetings candidates will be given the opportunity to make a brief presentation and then answer questions.

People attending these focus groups or the community meeting will be asked to fill out a feedback form at the end of these sessions, which will be provided to the School Board.

Dr. Hill told the RoundTable  that the focus groups used in the Days in the District will be the same ones convened on Sept. 12, but some of them may be consolidated to meet with the candidates for the Days in the District so that the candidates will not be overwhelmed with meetings on that day. She said each focus group will meet on only one of the three Days in the District. Similarly she said she will ask community members to only attend one of the three community meeting held during the Days in the District.

She said the reason for this is that BWP wants people to provide input on candidates which will be helpful to the Board, but they do not want people in the community to align with and argue for specific candidates, which she said could make it harder for the community to all get behind the new Superintendent and make his or her tenure a success.

The Board will interview each candidate for a second time in closed session at the end of the Days in the District. Dr. Noland said some school districts ask the candidates to make a 15-minute presentation before the interviews. She said the Board could ask them to talk about a specific topic, such as social justice.

 The Board is tentatively scheduled to deliberate on the candidates in a closed session meeting on Dec. 5.

After a final candidate is selected, the Board or its representative will negotiate a contract with the selected candidate, and then vote to approve the new Superintendent and the Superintendent’s contract on Jan. 13.

BWP has agreed to provide its services for a maximum of $30,450. This includes the cost of advertising, but not the cost of travel expenses of candidates to travel to Evanston or members of the Board to travel to a candidate’s school district.

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...