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.

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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.

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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.  

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