Uploaded: Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 9:53 am
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.
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.