The Search for a Superintendent 101

“Our success will come not because of Board directives, or the Superintendent’s notions, or the staff’s creativity, or the community’s yearning. We will make it because we have the common need to draw on each other, and the audacity to believe that in concert, we are equal to the great tasks.” -Dr. Marcus Foster, Former Superintendent Oakland Unified

The Oakland community unfortunately is not in an unfamiliar place: the search for a new superintendent. Over the last 50 years, Oakland Unified has seen 24 superintendents (check out this blog from Educate78 on OUSD Superintendents: Now and Then).

We move forward together, and with that have a responsibility to Oakland students to ensure our School Board selects the best leader for Oakland students.

Here at GO Public Schools, we are committed to providing timely updates as the search progresses and lift up opportunities for the Board to hear from the community to inform their selection.

In this first update, we highlight the work of a superintendent, recap the Board’s announced selection process, and offer some context on how a superintendent search generally works.

The Role of a Superintendent

The superintendent reports directly to the school board, acting as the chief administrator of a school district. The responsibilities of the superintendent are many — highlighted below are some of the most important.

Role of Superintendent-01

The Board’s Selection Process

With some of the most important responsibilities for the superintendent in mind, it’s important to understand the Oakland School Board’s process for selecting this leader.  

The Oakland Board of Directors has retained the search firm Leadership Associates to assist in facilitating the search process. Based in California, Leadership Associates has supported school boards in their selection of superintendents in more than 350 California school districts and organizations since 1996. The Oakland Board has previously used the firm.

The Board communicated their selection timeline — key dates are highlighted below.


Alongside the timeline, the Board also communicated that they are “committed to an open and transparent process that will engage staff and community in determining the key qualities and attributes needed in the new superintendent.”

Selecting a Superintendent

There is no perfect process for how to select a new superintendent, however, there are important factors in deciding how to approach it. We offer some context in the questions and answers to follow.

Who gets to decide who is the superintendent?

Our elected school board selects the superintendent. In fact, one of the most important responsibilities of a school board is to hire and manage the superintendent. The school board is the superintendent’s boss.

Why would the school board use a search firm?

The search for a superintendent has many steps and moving parts — to name a few:

  • Engage with community to have voices heard in a variety of different ways such as open forums, group input sessions, and an online survey
  • Per community input and the board’s vision for the district, get clear about the ideal candidate profile
  • Author a job description
  • Advertise the role
  • Review and vet applications
  • Author meaningful interview questions that get to the heart of the role, closely aligned to the district’s needs
  • Conduct thorough interviews, reference checks, and background checks
  • Communicate with candidates throughout the process, including scheduling interviews and notifying candidates of the Board’s decisions

Many school boards choose to hire a firm to help manage and facilitate these numerous steps, particularly as the school board is concurrently managing the day-to-day responsibilities of being a school board member. Hiring a search firm is a common practice for many organizations across government, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors when conducting an important talent search.

Alternatively, a school board can choose not to hire a search firm or consultant and conduct the search themselves. Boards that commit to this should be aware of the time and effort required for a search.

The benefit of a school board using the same search firm is that the firm better knows the school board — and community. There is a level of relationship building and trust that is key for a school board when working with a search firm. School board members should be able to be direct and transparent in their needs and feedback on candidates and process.  

What does it mean when a search is ‘open’ or ‘confidential’, and which one is better?

A open search means that the general public knows all the candidates. One benefit of this is that the board has the option to conduct open interviews with the community.  

A confidential search means candidates do not have to publicly announce their application and interviews are conducted in private. A benefit to approach is that districts may see a difference in the quality of the candidate pool, as candidates are able to apply without jeopardizing their current role. If a school board chooses this approach, it is critical that they receive community feedback in the beginning stages of the process.

As with the search firm choice, both approaches have their pros and cons, and it is important that the school board and public understand and be transparent with these tradeoffs.

What Can I Do?

That was a lot of information!  What can I do?

First, share your voice. If you took OUSD’s Superintendent Search Survey, the Board and Leadership Associates are sure to use the data collected here closely when developing the ideal candidate profile, authoring the job description, and interviewing candidates. Keep an eye out for opportunities to share your voice like this in the future.

Second, stay informed. Keep up-to-date on search happenings such that you can share your voice along the way in the process.

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