Over the years I have served as a consultant to many school boards searching for a new superintendent. Keep in mind that the job of selection, while it can be ably supported by search firms and advisory committees, ultimately is the legal responsibility of the Governing Board and is, in my opinion, the most crucial decision any board is ever charged to make during its term of office.
There is no doubt that there will be a large pool of interested candidates in leading the state's second-largest school district. Search firms generally provide good service in vetting candidates that meet the qualifications of the position.
However, once the list of semifinalists is developed, the process accelerates, and here is where it becomes interesting. Due diligence in researching these candidates falls not only on the search firm but on boards to make certain they have a complete picture of each candidate. This is not a time to delegate or to be timid or complacent. The goal is to eliminate any surprises.
There are certain cautionary flags that I would like to profile that might be a baseline for reviewing those finalists:
• The Escape Artists - These candidates are one step ahead of leaving a district disenchanted with their leadership. Whatever the issues are, scouring local headlines, editorials, blogs and talking with local constituents may reveal the sources of friction. To be fair, every leader has detractors, but are the issues raised ones that a new board wants to live with? Past performance is the best predictor of future performance.
• The Carpetbaggers - These candidates have shaped their professional life by moving from one district to another; frequently and repeatedly vacating their contracts early and moving on to the next job. If leadership continuity is important, then their track record of institutional loyalty should be a huge question. These candidates are easy to spot - just closely look at their complete résumé where the pattern of mobility is quite evident.
• The Barnstormers - These candidates generally have one big idea or two that could become their entire agenda if hired. This myopic style of leadership can be restrictive, counterproductive and damaging. A successful superintendent must give broad attention to all of the issues of the district and cannot be mired in a couple of "pet projects."
• The Shoppers - These candidates' interest in applying is an art form. They could be experiencing success in their current job but continuing to explore greener pastures. Their track record suggests that they rarely take the job - even if they are a finalist. They drop out of the process, but before they do, they parlay a sweeter deal with their current board. The search network knows who these people are.
The superintendency is a difficult job, and candidates seeking this position need to be ready to give a full commitment to its challenges and complexities. Careful review of each candidate is an obligation. I am hopeful that the TUSD Governing Board will give its complete attention to the critical decision it must make for the district's future.
J. Robert Hendricks is associate professor emeritus in the College of Education at the University of Arizona. He previously served as superintendent of the Flowing Wells School District for 13 years. He is president of Hendricks & Associates, a consulting group.