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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

ACS searches for charismatic leader ACS searches for charismatic leader (May 26, 2004)

Experience with teen stress not as important as strong leadership qualities

by Alexandria Rocha

Even though stress has become a major issue for Palo Alto's teenagers, the new executive director of Adolescent Counseling Services won't necessarily be an expert on the issue..

With current director Sue Barkhurst retiring June 30, the agency is well into its hunt for a new head administrator. Agency officials, however, do not want to limit the search and chase off qualified candidates just because individuals may not have experience with teen stress.

"We didn't want to exclude candidates who have experience in the for-profit world or not-for-profits who have dealt with other social or mental issues," said Holly Ward, a community volunteer and president of the nonprofit's board of directors. "If someone came in from an AIDS not-for-profit or from dealing with homelessness. ... Someone who cares about the community could easily step into this role."

After closing the application deadline May 17, the organization is preparing to interview seven candidates. The board hopes to make a decision by the middle of next month.

"It's always hard for a not-for-profit to go through this kind of change," Ward said. "I heard there were 97 executive director positions open in the Bay Area. We hope to be able to get a talented candidate."

The organization -- which promotes healthy social and emotional development for adolescents, families and communities through counseling and education -- received 17 resumes.

To help make the transition, the board created a subcommittee consisting of 11 major stakeholders within the organization. The subcommittee is in charge of interviewing the seven candidates, eventually recommending two to three finalists to the board.

Ward said the board will not hesitate to appoint an interim executive director if it does not find a suitable candidate.

Julie Jerome, a former ACS board president who is heading up the screening committee, reiterated a similar sentiment. "We will not recommend just to recommend," she said.

Before advertising for the position, the board created a list of necessary qualifications that applicants should possess, including a minimum five years in management and demonstrated communication skills.

Ward also said the board debated whether it should require that candidates hold a clinical degree.

Though the agency requires those who work in its clinics hold medical degrees, the board decided it wasn't necessary for the person in the executive director position to as well.

"We're looking for someone who is a good public speaker, someone who is charismatic, someone who can develop relationships with the community, and someone with roots in Menlo Park and Palo Alto," Ward said. "Really, we're looking for a leader."

The board also decided that someone with fiscal, organizational, and program development management skills would be the best match.

The agency, which was founded in 1975, runs three programs, including a group home called Caravan House, an on-campus counseling program, and an adolescent substance abuse treatment program, which Barkhurst started.

Barkhurst plans to stay involved with ACS by becoming a member of the Board of Advisors.

Staff writer Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at

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