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School board settles on search firm

Among qualities sought: 'Bright, communicative, not intimidated'

"Bright, knowledgeable, communicative and not intimidated" are a few of the traits needed in a new superintendent of schools for Palo Alto, according to search professionals interviewed by the Board of Education Monday.

After spending the morning publicly interviewing representatives of three search firms, board members settled on a plan to hire Southern California-based Leadership Associates, a partnership of former California school superintendents, to manage the search for a price of $31,500.

Though they plan to advertise the Palo Alto job nationally, search professionals said Monday the new superintendent is likely to come from California for a variety of reasons, including cost of housing and portability of state retirement packages.

Palo Alto's search will be led by Peggy Lynch, former superintendent of San Diego County's San Dieguito Union High School District and Orange County's Brea Olinda Unified School District.

Also on the search team are Phil Quon, former superintendent of the Cupertino Union School District and San Jose's Union School District, and Dennis Smith, former superintendent of Orange County's Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District and Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla.

Lynch said she will work with board members and community groups to create "a position description that best suits Palo Alto," including asking people to rank the "personal and professional characteristics" they consider most important.

"Typically we'll get 15 or 20 applications and we'd bring you a recommendation of four or six that are the best match," she told the school board. "Sometimes it's only three that are the best match ... but you'll see everybody's papers."

Lynch said the firm would maintain confidentiality of all candidates until a finalist is named and representatives for Palo Alto visit the finalist's home district for a final vetting.

"Current superintendents are not going to put themselves out there if it's public," she said. "There may be five finalists but only one's going to get the job and the other four have to go home."

Palo Alto is a "challenging place" to work as superintendent, search professionals said Monday.

"We'll want to be very cautious and careful and methodical as we talk to people so they're realistic about the expectations here, as well as the living environment," Smith said.

"This is a challenging place," he added. "You have to have a presence about you; you can't cower but you want to be an affable person, probably someone who has some seasoning, a significant level of experience. And the housing market is certainly something we have to talk about with candidates."

Quon said the ideal candidate would have "political skills, communication skills that your community demands, and somebody who knows instruction, finances and how to ask the right questions when he or she gets here to mold the team into an organization that will move the district forward."

"There are a lot of great candidates out there but they're not necessarily going to be successful in Palo Alto," Smith said.

"You can say it's a tough gig, there's a lot of pressure here. There's no question about that. This is a unique district and you need a unique leader."

Leadership Associates is the same firm the district hired in 2007 for the search that yielded current Superintendent Kevin Skelly. That search cost the district $35,000. This time, however, the search team members are different.

Among the runners-up Monday was search firm Hazard, Young Attea & Associates, which managed the searches for Skelly's two predecessors, Don Phillips, who served from 1997 to 2001; and Mary Frances Callan, who served from 2002 to 2007.

Comments

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Posted by Dissapointed Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Wow! Another way to wast our children's money. Why would they go again for the same firm that made the mistake of not discovering the problems the district of Poway had under Skelly's reign? Is this a way to say this is how much we care about what people say and about. We sure do not learn from history, this is why it keeps repeating. You might us well give the position to Katherine Baker formal principal at Terman who violated the rights of the special education child in the first OCR case, that way you do not waste our students funds, and you send us another message about how much you do not care about OCR and special ed. kids. I think it will take some board members recalling in order to get t his no nonsense decisions.


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Posted by HPA
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2014 at 4:11 pm

HPA is a registered user.

At least they didn't pay a search firm to find a search firm. It all seems a bit absurd given the fact that fifteen people known to just about everyone will apply and they will be paid $30+ to get that number down to as many as six. I don't understand why they are hiring a search firm except for perhaps either for "legal reasons"(which usually amount to relying on someone else to provide common sense in situations where it isn't common) or perhaps sophisticated people don't sully there hands with such matters as personally calling references and checking into things. So the expert search firm has advised the school board that they should look for someone "bright, knowledgeable .." Thank goodness for the experts, because without their guidance the Board would most surely have been on the lookout for a complete idiot who has never worked at a school before ...


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Posted by California
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2014 at 5:17 pm


$31,500? That's a really bad sign right there. We will get what we pay for.

The word "communicative" is odd. Probably in contrast to Skelly's communication issues, but really the issue was not communication. It was Skelly's misunderstanding that by attaching himself politically here and there, and by the sheer power of being a Superintendent, that he could do no wrong.

We need somebody who is extraordinarily capable of listening, understanding the issues, and capable of repeating them back to the community in a way that has some actual solutions proposed to problems. We have enough folks getting paid a lot of money to have groundhog day at PAUSD.

The big problem is really diverse site level issues. All the schools have disparate needs and whines, and they all want attention. Site control needs to be streamlined. We need an extremely organized person who can have the vision to make the best out of shared goals. When Skelly arrived, it was all about "professional development" and the district spends millions to send teachers to gurus for inspiration to do better. Spend that money to look within and solve some problems on our own. Imagine if we personally spent all our money to go hear what the latest guru has to say. Millions go to professional development and we are spending $31,500 to hire the top job in PAUSD?!

California. Why limit the search to among the worst performing districts in the country?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by California
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2014 at 5:48 pm

For example, a thread on homework brings up the fact that Gunn does not have a block schedule.

Why not? Ask the potential candidates what they are willing to do about this? Skelly's kids went to Gunn, so he probably thought that it's ok to not change anything, seems fine. What if it would be better for students to have a block schedule?

Will it be a matter of politics? Maybe to be friendly with Gunn site control, being new and all, trying to make friends, won't touch the matter?

These are things that a new candidate should already have an opinion about - site control vs aligning some basic things like high school schedules. How fast can the new person gather the facts, listen to all the issues, and report to the community the best solution? Soon, sometime, never?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by History repeating itself
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 11, 2014 at 6:07 pm

[Post removed due to misstatement of facts.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Teacher, too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good Point
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 11, 2014 at 7:51 pm

"Gunn does not have a block schedule. Why not? Ask the potential candidates what they are willing to do about this? "

This is a good point. If a candidate says anything other than, "I would try to learn more about the situation, talking to the teachers, students, and administrators and then try to do what seems right, regardless of how people howl for change," we should DEFINITELY not hire them. I don't know what the answer is on scheduling, but I do know that leaders who think they know the answers talking to the people on the ground are likely to do a bad job.


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Posted by California
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Good point,

That is the point. People "on the ground" are teachers and administrators, and that equals politics, not necessarily best practices. See botched bullying policy.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Teacher, too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Yes, let's trust Leadership Associates. Here are some quotes from their March 4 letter to the board:

"We have a strong record of success, including the search we conducted with you when Dr. Skelly was selected." Really, these last six years were a success?

"The Palo Alto USD is a leader in addressing such complex issues as the successful implementation of the Common Core, Smarter Balanced Assessments, Bullying Prevention Policies, and Blended Classroom Learning." I did not know that our bullying policy was successful. Perhaps I need to read those Tabitha Hurley press releases. There are a whole bunch more than before and they have taken my mind off OCR complaints and the four potential lawsuits that the board was meeting in closed session, away from the public's eyes. That and PAUSD has not implemented any of those things, least of all successfully.

And Dennis Smith of Leadership Associates is quoted here as saying the next superintendent should be "probably someone who has some seasoning, a significant level of experience." So three years as an assistant superintendent in Poway qualifies you to be the PAUSD superintendent. I wonder if that means a current PAUSD assistant superintendent and compliance officer who has about two and a third years experience would be qualified to be the new superintendent?


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Posted by HPA
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2014 at 9:59 pm

HPA is a registered user.

[Portion removed due to inaccurate information.] One of the BIG reasons to hire a firm is bc one can't stomach doing the background check. Of course, as adults we need to just man/woman up to the job, but not everyone wants to. I remember having to hire a nanny as a new young working parent a very long time ago. I couldn't pay an agency. It was horrible to have to do it, but even I knew that I had to call every reference and check out each reference and prior position personally.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dissapointed Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Leadership also says the new superintendent should not be intimidated.
I GUESS THIS IS WHY Skelly NEVER PAID ATTENTION TO OCR. HE NEVER FELT INTIMIDATED, AND IGNORED THEM. even after they fond that the child was not protected, HE WAS STILL NOT INTIMIDATED,
When the case became public: MAYBE HE WAS A LITTLE INTIMIDATED, and finally gave placement to the child.
I am wondering if Holly Wade, Mr. Young and Katherine Baker, Holly Wade, Huertas and Tammy Ziggler were also found by this sophisticated Leadership Firm because THEY TOO ARE NOT INTIMIDATED even when T INTIMIDATED, even if excrement is going to hit the fan.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by truth will trip you up
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

@DP,
Yep, and as we found out as all the other OCR cases against the district got thrown out - he was right not to be intimidated by OCR!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by So far
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 12, 2014 at 12:42 pm

1 finding of violating civil rights law, 2 settlements with the federal government, multiple federal interventions to prevent an illegal bullying policy, a federal compliance review on Title IX that the district is refusing to talk about, and I bet we're not through yet on the complaint front. A cover-up by Skelly of the finding. If that's a happy story, I'd hate to see what bad news looks like.


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Posted by Dissapointed Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Truth Will Trip You Up,

The fact that the district said they WON, does not mean that it did not happened. Skelly is not intimidated because at PAUSD the staff who gets messes up the worst, is the one who gets the promotion, even if she does not deserve it. Maybe Skelly is looking for a higher position too. I do not think is any higher positition at the district office and he should know that. May be there is a higher position somewhere where they will be impressed with his intimidating and ignoring skills. Many of our administrators could qualify easily for that position that requires that skill.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by A Member of the MPCSD Community
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 15, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Hello Neighbors in the PAUSD,

Caveat Emptor! A Few Facts to Consider
Our search firm experience in the Menlo Park City School District and the experiences of a couple of other districts on the peninsula are noted below.

1. Larry Aceves was the lead consultant from Leadership Associates who worked with the MPCSD Board in spring 2011 when the District needed to hire a new superintendent.

2. Larry Aceves and Maurice Ghysels, the candidate recommended to the MPCSD Board by Aceves, are friends who played together in a band.

3. In November 2009, the Mountain View School Board announced that Ghysels would be leaving the district after his unethical behavior in the district.

4. In May 2010, Ghysels' friend, Charles Weis, then-Superintendent of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, appointed Ghysels the Chief Academic Officer for the Santa Clara County Office of Education (yes, the same Weiss who was sued in December 2012 by his former employer, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, for an unpaid 1M condo loan).

5. In 2010, leading up to the state election, Ghysels contributed relatively significant sums of money to Aceves' campaign for California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

6. In February 2011, the MPCSD Board approved a $21,000. contract with Leadership Associates to conduct a "nationwide search" for a superintendent.

7. Aceves instructed the MPCSD Board to NOT include parents, community or staff members in the interview process for superintendent. The Board agreed with this recommendation, making it the first time that Menlo Park parents, community and staff members were not involved in the superintendent interview process. Aceves told the Board to not include anyone in the interview process in order to keep the process confidential. He stated that candidates wouldn't apply for the position if they thought their application would become known to their current district. (This is not the case. Ethical district administrators inform their Board/supervisor when they are applying for other positions.)

8. During a "superintendent input" meeting with Menlo Park staff, a participant asked Aceves if his search firm was the same one that recruited Howard Cohen, the previous superintendent in South San Francisco Unified School District. (After a year on the job in SSFUSD, Cohen resigned in December 2010 due to questionable hiring practices in SSFUSD and accusations of doing the same, as well as mismanaging finances in Waterford Unified School District where he previously served as superintendent.) The accusations were documented by the Modesto Bee in March 2008; long before Leadership Associates recommended Cohen for the SSFUSD superintendency. In response to the question by the MPCSD participant, Aceves DENIED that Leadership Associates was the firm that recruited Cohen, and he stated it was a different search firm that worked for SSFUSD, in spite of the fact that the SSFUSD had a contract with Leadership Associates and the Leadership Associates website stated that they HAD recruited Cohen for the SSFUSD superintendency. Shortly after the MPCSD input meeting, the Leadership Associates website no longer listed Cohen as one of their recruits.

9. In May 2011, the Menlo Park Board selected Ghysels for superintendent, stating that they knew his background and the controversy he had created in Mountain View.

10. In June 2011, Larry Aceves' wife, Linda, who worked at the Santa Clara COE, was promoted to the Chief Academic Officer position that was vacated by Ghysels at the COE.

11. In January 2012, Menlo Park needed to fill 2 principal positions. Ghysels recommended, and the Board approved, a $10,000. contract with Leadership Associates to conduct a "nationwide search" for "the best" principals. The District had never used a search firm for principals before, as many qualified applicants had applied for the positions in the past. At the end of the "nationwide search," one of Ghysels' former principals in Mountain View was selected for Encinal Elementary School, and a principal that he knew from Union School District in Santa Clara County was selected for Hillview.

12. In May 2013, Ghysels announced that a search firm would be used to find a Director of Student Services. An administrator Ghysels worked with at the Santa Clara COE was selected for the position.

Leadership Associates delivered a superintendent to the MPCSD who, between 2009 and the present, has received hundreds of negative comments about his character and leadership, documented online in the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. In addition, Ghysels was the focus of an editorial in The Almanac wherein the editor awarded him an "F" as a leader.

In July 2010, Leadership Associates "found" Linda Luna to fill the superintendent position in Millbrae Elementary School District. Per the online Daily Journal, in February 2014, the teachers' union in MESD presented a vote of no confidence in the superintendent to the school board, and a highly-regarded middle school principal resigned mid-year, in December 2013, related to issues with the superintendent.

Search firms are not needed for a district to hire an outstanding superintendent. All districts have access to edjoin.org, an online system used to recruit educators/district administrators. Districts sometimes receive no benefit from the expenses they incur for contracting with a search firm. The ones who do benefit are the superintendents who need to find a new district and the retired superintendents who work for the search firms.

Insist on the participation of staff, parents and community members in the interview(s) for your new superintendent.

Best wishes for a successful outcome from your superintendent selection process.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 15, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Thanks, that is fascinating and depressing. No wonder Barb Mitchell was so anxious to give these folks a contract without even interviewing other firms. She and Dana Tom must be concerned about how a new superintendent will affect their ability to keep policy discussions behind closed doors. This firm sounds like it may be willing to play ball in finding someone like Skelly who will go along with that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Teachers, too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2014 at 8:21 am

I hate playing the guessing game, but the long post above sounds very PAEA-influenced. I do know that Triona Gogarty, former president of the teachers' union and big supporter of Kevin Skelly, posted on June 27, 2012: "Congratulations Dr. Skelly! Thanks for the good work you have done." That would be a show of support for Skelly but the post above is critical of Menlo Park superintendent Maurice Ghysels, and avoids Skelly altogether, it basically mirrors a post by Triona in the Almanac on March 21, 2013, which slithered on down to sexist name-calling: "bully . . . yes-men." If or when Skelly takes the Santa Clara County Office of Education superintendent position in a couple of months, will the poster finally come to the realization that Skelly's relationship with Leadership Associates, Aceves, and even Ghysels is basically the same as he or she is describing? It's is a very small group of superintendents and Leadership Associates that mix together, which is why they are able to pop up in neighboring districts so easily. Save the anti-Ghysels rant for the Almanac. Your post details well how things happen, but it leaves out the one relevant point for Palo Alto: Skelly's story with Leadership Associates is similar.


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