The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has set a timeline to search for the district’s next superintendent.
Dr. Steve Joel with McPherson and Jacobson is spearheading the search at the request of several board members. Joel is also the superintendent of Nebraska’s Lincoln Public Schools, which has 41,000 students.
The previous search was led by other consultants with the firm.
The district originally hired McPherson and Jacobson to search for its next superintendent last year, but the board called off the search in late 2018 after being unsatisfied with the candidates.
Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard, then serving in an interim capacity, agreed to stay on at the district and the board named him the permanent superintendent in early 2019.
On Oct. 1, the current board – which includes two new members who did not participate in the last search – voted unanimously to stick with McPherson and Jacobson for the current search.
The company committed to operating the new search under its existing contract. The district had spent $21,000 out of the $36,900 contract during the previous search.
At a meeting with the board on October 23, Joel set out a tentative timeline for the search that the board later approved.
Joel recommended listing the job and its criteria by Nov. 3 and allowing two months for applications to come in before closing out the application period on Jan. 9.
It is likely the job will be posted shortly after a planned Nov. 5 board meeting during which the board is expected to approve criteria for the search.
The consultants will then present candidates to the board at a board meeting in late January. At that point, the board will select finalists or direct the firm to continue the search.
“I would just say that those are typically four-hour board meetings, but if they need to be eight-hour board meetings, you just tell us how long they need to be and we’ll plan accordingly,” Joel said.
The board met in a closed executive session for six hours with consultants on Dec. 20, 2018, before ultimately canceling the search.
Following the selection of finalists, the board will interview candidates from Feb. 10 to 14 before potentially selecting a new superintendent later that month.
“I will tell you, by being done by (February 21) you will be in front of most of the pack,” Joel told the board.
The previous year’s failed search was a topic of conversation at the Oct. 23 meeting, and Joel cautioned the board members to temper their expectations.
“Superintendents today have a lot options,” Joel said, noting that there are many job openings throughout the country and the candidate pools have dwindled in recent decades.
Joel said circumstances within the district and the state will contribute to the difficulty of the search.
“I will tell you that this is not going to be an easy search, but I don’t think it’s going to be an impossible search,” Joel told the board. “It’s just we’re going to have to work really hard to create a portrait of a challenge and opportunity that is going to be enticing to your next leader.”
The state of public education funding in Arizona is one of the challenges the district will face, especially if it seeks to attract applicants from outside the state.
“Arizona is one of the toughest states in the country…it’s going to be difficult to bring in people from other states (where) salaries are quite a bit higher…” Joel said.
Joel said turnover at the top of Scottsdale district will be top of mind for some candidates concerned about stability. Including interims, the district has had eight individuals or teams fill the superintendent position since 2000.
Though Scottsdale’s turnover rate is higher than normal, some data indicates superintendents, on average, do not stick around long in general.
“The average tenure of a superintendent in an urban district is 3.1 years and the suburban districts, it’s a little bit over 4 years,” Joel said.
A study released last year showed a longer tenure for superintendents at the nation’s largest school districts, though the districts in the study had a considerably larger enrollment than SUSD.
The 2018 study by the Broad Center, looked at 242 total superintendents at the country’s 100 largest districts between 2003 and 2017, and showed an average tenure of 6.16 years.
The districts in the study had enrollments between 46,695 and 1.1 million in 2018. SUSD’s enrollment in 2018 was over 22,000 students.