Weatherford Democrat

July 21, 2013

RIGUES: Hiring a school superintendent – confidentiality vs. transparency


Weatherford Democrat

— By BOBBY J. RIGUES

The function of our local schools is arguably the most visible public enterprise. Consider the following – can you name another entity we entrust two of our most protected possessions; our children and our money? Within this context, the importance of “transparency” by our local public schools is clear.

Laws dictate strict transparency requirements. There are also areas where transparency may not be required but wise to recognize.

A perfect example involves the process of hiring school superintendents. Under the cloak of confidentiality and multiple closed sessions, the hiring responsibility is reserved to local school boards. Applications are gathered, identities are kept confidential, interviews completed, and a “lone finalist” emerges. Twenty-one days later, a new superintendent is hired. Mission accomplished – or is it?

Adding transparency to the hiring process marked by confidentiality is not difficult. The solution includes community involvement and communication.

Let’s rewind the hiring process. School superintendents are considered high profile community positions – constantly under the public microscope. The practice of confidentiality allows these individuals the fairness to investigate invitations of leadership without fear of local community repercussions. The education of our children and the use of our tax dollars are at stake. Highly successful superintendents will always be in strong demand.

The Aledo ISD recently completed the process of hiring a superintendent. One of the strongest indicators of transparency included community involvement and the creation of attributes desired in a new superintendent. Working together, the Aledo ISD staff, administrators, students, and community members provided the school board a list of “qualifications and characteristics.” This community involvement provided the school board a pathway to hiring a superintendent reflective of local community values.

When confidentiality must be respected, the duty to communicate is magnified – removing curtains of mystery. The Aledo ISD school board communicated information such as the use of a search firm and its advantages, as well as the number of applicants (a total of 52) with both genders represented and all employed in Texas. Applications were received from campus principals, central administration personnel, assistant and current superintendents. The student population experience ranged from 500 to 50,000 students.

Although actual interviews are completed in confidential closed sessions, how the interview process takes place can be transparent. Within the Aledo ISD’s hiring process, the interview setting involved strict and specific conditions.

In the first round of interviews, the top six candidates were greeted in the same respectful manner and given the same instructions. A set of predetermined questions were asked by every board member in the same order found seated in the same arrangement around the same conference table under the same time allotment. The objective for this strict arrangement created a mirrored opportunity for each candidate to have an equal interview.

The questions included topics regarding Community Relations, Administration, Finance, Construction, Curriculum, Leadership and Accountability just to name a few. From the top six candidates, three were chosen for a second round of interviews. This allowed the board the opportunity to expand on previously answered questions.

Most school boards use a similar hiring process with more or less steps involved. Once a “lone-finalist” is chosen and introduced to the community, a district must wait 21 days before the school board can officially hire a new superintendent.

School board members are elected by local communities to be stewards of their local schools. Transparency is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Ultimately, transparency keeps everyone pointed in the right direction – a direction aimed toward student achievement. Make Education a Priority.

Bobby J. Rigues is the founder of MEaP – Make Education a Priority, a Leadership TASB Class of 2009 Master Trustee and an Aledo ISD Board of Trustee. You can contact him at Brigues@att.net.

www.schoolpriority.com

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