The Scottsdale Unified school board

The Scottsdale Unified school board plans to select the district’s new permanent superintendent on Jan. 28, but its new board members elected Nov. 6 won’t have a say in selecting the finalists.

The board is grappling with the hiring process amid community calls to allow the new members elected Nov. 6 to have a role in making the final decision.

The school board met last Tuesday, Sept. 25, with Thomas Jacobson of superintendent search firm McPherson & Jacobson to discuss the timeline for the hiring.

The meeting took on a rather contentious tone throughout as the board pushed the consultant to move up his recommended deadlines so that the current board could potentially select the finalists – who would then be reviewed by a newly constructed board in January.

Two board seats are up in the November election.  The terms for board members Kim Hartmann and Pam Kirby expire this year, and neither is running for re-election.

The consultants will provide a variety of services, including conducting meetings with parents, teachers, students, staff and other stakeholders; providing a report on that feedback; and vetting the applicants’ backgrounds.

The discussion over the timeline took well over an hour as board members grappled with multiple questions and the need to remain transparent and keep the community involved in every step of the process.

“I have been hearing from the community that they want to have input at every single step,” board member Allyson Beckham said.

Interim Superintendent John Kriekard said that McPherson & Jacobson “has a great history of transparency and heavy community involvement.”

Several board members, including Hartmann and Beckham, pushed to speed that timeline up so that the current board would have some say in picking three or four finalists in December before the newly elected board members take their seats.

The timeline recommended by Jacobson called for finalists to be selected in early January – after the new board takes office.

However, the current board decided to schedule a board meeting with McPherson & Jacobson for Dec. 19. Though the official agenda for that meeting has not yet been released, the board and Jacobson indicated that this meeting would be held to select finalists.

Jacobson said he does not see a benefit to the old board selecting finalists versus allowing the new board to take on that responsibility.

He emphasized his belief that it is important to leave the final decision in the hands of the new board – as the current board chose to do.

“I think it is important that the person gets hired by (the new) board,” he said.

That opinion also reflects the desires of some community members.

Former SUSD teacher and parent Rony Assali started an online petition titled “The New Governing Board should Select SUSD’s Permanent Superintendent.”

The petition gathered over 200 signatures as of last week.

Assali said that the board should have taken Jacobson’s recommendation and allowed the new board to select the finalists.

“The community is pleading for them not to make the decision quickly, and the expert is doing the same thing,” he said, adding:

“My frustration is that you have a few board members leaving that the community doesn’t have much confidence in and they are going to have a say in who the finalists are.”

Beckham said she worried about putting too much pressure on a new board with members that had just taken office, noting that in her experience it takes several months to get acclimated to the job.

“You have a group of people here who have (worked on) the criteria (and) put in the time, energy (and) thought, and all of a sudden then you are pushing all of that information we have been gathering to a new group of people that are brand new,” she said.

Still, Beckham pointed out, the new board will have the final say in picking the new superintendent.

Assali said that could undermine the community’s confidence in the new superintendent, even if he or she is a qualified candidate.

“Senses are heightened when it comes time to making these big decisions, and there’s not a lot of trust between me and the current governing board,” Assali said.

The timeline

The actual timing of the search was a point of contention, with some board members pointing out that community members think they are rushing the process.

However, both Jacobson and the board pointed out that fall and winter are typically the prime time to conduct a superintendent search.

“We are in the prime time for the candidate pool. That is important for our community to understand (because) we have gotten a lot of questions about ‘Why now? Why now?’” board President Barbara Perleberg said. “It’s because we are in the prime candidate time to find that (great candidate).”

Kirby thought the board could have begun even sooner, stating, “I think we are just repeating old, tired processes…as opposed to thinking outside the box.”

Hartmann also said that the board is starting earlier than in previous searches.

Community input

Reaching out to the community – including parents, students, teachers and staff – and other stakeholders is a key part of the process.

The timeline includes multiple meetings between the consultants and stakeholder groups, including parents, community members, teachers and other district staff, that will take place over four days beginning on Oct. 22.

Jacobson anticipated that his consultants could hold between 15 to 20 meetings during those four days.

The board also highlighted community organizations they would like to include, such as the Scottsdale Charros, SUSD Foundation, Business United for Scottsdale Schools, Scottsdale Community College and Arizona State University.

Both Jacobson and the board agreed that those meetings should be held in all five of the district’s learning communities in order to ensure that all parties have an equal chance to share their views and desired qualifications for the new superintendent.

The meetings will be open to all stakeholders who wish to attend, not just residents of the specific learning communities.

The consultants will also issue an online survey to gather community feedback.

Following those stakeholder meetings, McPherson & Jacobson will deliver an extensive report on Nov. 8 that details the community’s desires in new superintendent.

That report will also be made public on Nov. 8 and will be available on the McPherson & Jacobson website.

The board will then meet again with the team of consultants on Nov. 19. The agenda for that meeting has not been released, but Jacobson indicated this meeting would be to formulate interview questions for the prospective candidates using information from the stakeholder report.

The board set the application close date on Nov. 19, and McPherson & Jacobson will meet with the board Dec. 19, potentially to determine a handful of finalists.

The consultants will provide a shortlist of recommended candidates but will also provide a list of everyone that applied.

After the list of finalists is selected, the new school board will be responsible for choosing the new superintendent early next year.

The exact dates of the schedule are contingent on the availability of the consultants working with the district.

Contingency plan

The board also addressed what could happen if the new board is not happy with any of the options when it comes time to hire a new superintendent.

One option involved extending Kriekard’s contract.

When asked by board members if he intended to apply for the permanent job, Kriekard said he would not. However, when pushed, he said he would be open to staying on longer in an interim role if the search process took longer than expected.

“I will not leave this district leaderless,” he said.

Key dates in the process

Here are the key dates set by the Scottsdale Unified School Board in its search for a new superintendent.

Oct. 5: Latest date to start advertising the position.

Oct. 22-26: Hold meetings with stakeholder groups.

Nov. 8: Consultant delivers report, posts it for the public online.

Nov. 16: Compensation report posted on websites.

Nov. 19: Board meets with consultants, potentially to formulate questions for candidates.

Nov. 27: Closing date for applications.

Dec. 19:  Board meets with consultants, potentially to select finalists.

Jan. 22-25: Interviews with finalists.

Jan. 28: Board executive session to select superintendent.