Strong interest in school superintendent search : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Strong interest in school superintendent search|
|Several hundred residents respond to survey|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Residents in the Oswego School District are concerned about who will replace Superintendent Dr. Dan O'Donnell in two months, according to Gary Ray, president of Ray & Associates Inc., who is leading the search for a replacement.
O'Donnell has notified the board he will leave the district June 30 when his three year contract expires.
Ray met with school district board members last week to discuss the interview sessions they have had with people to discuss what qualities they believe a new superintendent should have.
About 500 people have responded either at live sessions or online, he said.
Ray said this shows a great interest by the community, noting that in some communities few people show any interest when a superintendent is being replaced.
Out of the 33 qualities established by the 500 people for a new superintendent, the following were the top ones that the firm will look for in candidates they present to the board, according to Ray.
He said the respondents want someone willing to listen to input but also be a decision maker. He noted this quality was combined with possessing excellent people skills and presenting a positive district image.
Respondents said they want someone who inspires trust, has high levels of self-confidence and optimism, and models high standards of integrity and personal performance.
The person must be a strong communicator through speaking, listening and writing.
They also want someone with experience in sound management who keeps board members informed, combined with experience in management of district resources, Ray said.
In addition, they want someone with the ability to delegate authority while maintaining accountability and they want someone strongly committed to the "student first" philosophy in all decisions.
Ray said they want someone with the ability to develop both short and long-range goals and someone who has demonstrated strong leadership skills in previous positions.
The person should have the ability to develop and communicate a vision of quality education, and be able to lead a large organization dedicated to goals of continuous improvement.
Ray said the new superintendent must have the ability to identify and select administrators capable of advancing the district's vision.
More than 500 people total participated either in person or online. "There was a great deal of participation which was a pleasant surprise for us," he said.
The participants included two elected officials, 18 administrators, elementary and secondary principals, assistant principals and deans, union members, municipal administrators, the Parent Community Council, the Parent School organizations, nearly 25 students from Oswego East and Oswego High schools.
Additionally Ray and his staff interviewed seven PTA members, community service organizations and held an open public forum. They also talked to 59 online teachers, 25 online administrators, 21 online non-certified staff members, 232 online parents, 11 online students, 36 online community members, online community officials and all seven school board members.
"We felt good about the numbers. We were not disappointed with any of them," he said.
"Having more than 500 participants told us the community appreciated having the opportunity to have some input into the decision and that's a positive thing," Ray said, adding, "It's also a good sign for the board. I do a lot of these and a lot of boards are saying they are not interested in input from the people about the superintendent. This board reached out and we had 24 groups involved, including the board members."
salary set at $235,000
The board has set the salary for the new superintendent at $235,000. Ray said this is a middle range and it could go up or down depending on the qualifications of whoever is chosen.
Ray said there was no particular group that was a surprise to him. "But I guess you could say we were pleasantly surprised by the attendance of the people and the online turnout. Going online cuts down attendance at sessions because we've become so attuned to technology. But, you miss out on the face-to-face contact when you go online," he said
Ray said his associate who interviewed the students found them to have a good grasp of what the superintendent's position entails and the responsibilities.
"The associate felt that the students were open and direct on the kinds of things they'd like to see in the next superintendent. They're very much aware of his impact and the outcome from a different perspective than parents-just like administrators have a different perspective than the classroom teachers," he said.
Ray said they had numerous groups involved because each of them presents a different perspective.
All of this information makes it easier for his people to interview candidates and let them know what the board and community is looking for in a new superintendent.
Ray said people often think there is a mold that all superintendents will fit.
"But that's not true. Someone might be an outstanding superintendent in another part of the state or country, but not match up here. We have a general idea and we're looking for certain characteristics and leadership skills that all good superintendents should have. But you're also looking for some uniqueness for Oswego that would be different for a neighboring district," he added.
"Candidates are always looking for challenges and opportunities that match their skills," he said.
Ray said his staff will use the material they received from the interviewers when they screen the candidates.
He is confident they will have a good pool of candidates for the job. It could number 40 to 60, but he noted that the size of this district will limit the number of eligible candidates.
"It's not the number of candidates that's important, but the quality. It only takes one to be the right one," he added.
Ray noted his firm is also seeing more females and minorities applying for superintendent positions today than in the past.
"I think this is a good thing and there are some great female and minority candidates out there, but like the other top candidates, the best ones have to be recruited," he said.
Board member Dave Behrens noted that requiring the new superintendent to have a doctorate degree did not score very high on the respondent's list.
Ray said leadership qualities, experience, communications skills, and others are replacing the demand for a degree.
"We've seen this across the country in recent years. We don't mean that a degree is not important, but people want more than just a degree when they hire a new superintendent," he said, adding, "The best measurement for a candidate is their past track record-what have they done in their previous positions and how successful have they been."
Ray said they expect to present six to eight candidates to the board, but it could be 10 to 12 depending on the qualifications.
He will ask the board members to narrow the field by ranking the candidates on a number basis. They could find the one they want from the entire group or narrow it down to a few and choose from them. When the group gets to three or less these candidates will be brought in for personal interviews and the final one chosen from them.
Ray 36 years in the business has given him the ability to recognize what he would call the best of the candidates, but the decision will be up to the board, not him or his associates.
"Our goal is not just to satisfy the board, but also members of the community. Board members come and go but the community members, parents and students will still be here," he said.
Their time line was to begin advertising immediately, he said and noted that many prospective candidates are aware of the position and have expressed an interest in applying.
First list of candidates
to board early next month
Their time line is to recruit candidates from now through the first of May.
Ray and his associates will then go through the applications and prepare their first list to be presented to the board on May 8.
This will probably be our longest meeting with you because we will be going over all the applications and scoring them.
"The next step would be to invite the candidates you chose for interviews on May 11 and 12," he said.
A decision would be made at that time whether the board would want to schedule additional interviews with any candidates, according to Ray.
No date was set for making a final decision, but Ray suggested this might happen midway through May.
They expect to have a new person hired in June so he or she can take over for O'Donnell when his contract expires.
The details of the new superintendent's contract will be made public at the time he or she is hired.