Through feedback that school leadership, staff, teachers, parents, students and others provided to a consulting firm in January, a portrait of the ideal superintendent to lead the Palo Alto Unified School District has emerged: a "transparent ethical leader" who can effectively manage staff and communicate with stakeholders.
Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the firm the school board hired to lead its search for the district's next superintendent, solicited this feedback through focus groups and an online survey last month. Consultants from the firm will present results of their work at Tuesday's school board meeting, the next step in the process to find a permanent replacement for former superintendent Max McGee, who resigned in September.
Top "desired characteristics" of a superintendent include someone who can lead a large, decentralized district through "effective delegation, supervision and accountability;" hires quality staff, reduces administrative turnover and "holds administrators and teachers accountable for student achievement;" fosters a positive working environment of "mutual trust and respect" among teachers, staff, administrators and community members; and is committed to addressing equity issues in the district, among other skills, according to a profile compiled by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates.
The consultants also asked each group they spoke to — school board members, administrators, teachers, staff, parents, students and community members — to assess the state of the district.
Most agreed that a reputation for academic excellence, a focus on students, "high-caliber" staff and strong parent support are among the district's top strengths, according to a summary compiled by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates.
Most respondents to the online survey gave the district high marks for overall quality of education.
A total of 1,034 people took the survey: 604 parents with children in the district, 208 teachers, 59 support staff, 49 community members, 47 students and 43 administrators. School board members did not take the survey. The firm cautions that the data "are not a scientific sampling, nor should they necessarily be viewed as representing the majority opinion of the respective groups to which they are attributed."
High percentages of respondents agreed on the survey that the district sets high standards for student performance, that its schools are safe, that technology is integrated into classrooms and that facilities are well-maintained.
Yet only 36 percent of people who responded to the survey agreed or strongly agreed that the district is heading in the right direction. Thirty percent agreed or strongly agreed that there is transparent communication from the district and 35 percent that the district makes decisions based on data.
Just under 30 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the district is fiscally responsible.
Challenges the district faces identified by the search firm include "the need to build morale," improving collaboration between school sites and the district office, addressing inconsistent use of data in decision-making and eliminating the achievement gap.
The district is also facing a "dichotomy," the consultants wrote, in how different groups are reacting to a heightened focus on addressing sexual-misconduct complaints, sparked by the district's mishandling of a report of student sexual-violence at Palo Alto High School last spring. To some, a resulting "over-reporting" trend is "making it difficult to do the operational work of the district while others are concerned that the increasing complaints are indicative of a culture in need of immediate change.
"This dichotomy in experience and belief also is indicative of a significant challenge for PAUSD, the need to rebuild trust among and between students, staff, administrators, board members, parents and members of the community," the consultants wrote.
Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates aims to have interviewed top superintendent candidates by late March, according to a district timeline, with board interviews scheduled for April.
In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on one member's proposal to introduce term limits for board members. Trustee Todd Collins has suggested the board support a ballot measure for the November election that would limit board members to serving two consecutive years of four years each, the same as the Palo Alto City Council. The estimated cost of the measure, which some board members have expressed wariness about spending, is approximately $82,000, according to the district.
The board will also take action on a districtwide equity plan that has been in the works for several years. The plan is meant to set a strategic, measurable path toward closing the achievement gap between minority and low-income students and their peers in Palo Alto Unified.
Trustees will also discuss potentially placing a new bond measure on the November ballot to fund a new series of facilities improvements across the district.
The board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.