D86 could hire new super by year's end

Hinsdale High School District 86 Board members have hired a superintendent search firm that could help them find a new district leader by the end of the year.

School Exec Connect was one of five firms the board approached about conducting the search and one of two that made a presentation to the board at a special meeting July 20.

“Our record is unmatched in this industry,” company President Kevin O’Mara told board members at that meeting. “Every single search that we have ever done has been on time and within budget.”

The board voted 7-0 at its regular meeting July 27 to hire the firm at a cost of $24,500 plus about $2,300 in expenses for items like travel and advertising. The firm also recommended the board spend $800 for a background check before making an offer.

Brian Barnhart, superintendent of Western Springs Elementary District 101, does freelance work with the firm and would be involved in this search. He presented what he called an “aggressive” timeline, with the board hiring a new superintendent to start in 2024 by November or at least by the end of this year.

The search process will include conversations with board members, staff, administrators and teachers; focus groups; community forums; and an online survey in order to develop the profile of an ideal candidate. Then a candidate pool is developed.

“We do heavy-duty recruiting,” O’Mara said. “We take great pride and passion in this.”

The firm offers three guarantees, Barnhart told the board. If the board can’t find a new superintendent in the initial slate of candidates the firm presents, the firm will begin the process again and will not charge the $24,500 consulting fee. If the new superintendent resigns or is dismissed in the first 24 months, the firm will conduct a new search, again waiving the consulting fee and charging expenses only to the district.

And the firm will not try to recruit the new superintendent for another job during the person’s first two contracts with District 86.

O’Mara said, in response to a board member’s question, that he expects there will be a number of out-of-state candidates.

“I think this district is a destination district,” O’Mara said. “It’s not one where you start your career. I hope we can place someone here that would be here for as long as the board wants that person to be here. I think it’s a very special place.”

Board President Cat Greenspon asked the two to share their impressions of the district.

Barnhart said District 86 has a reputation as a place that does amazing things.

“The other side to that is you guys have some challenges,” he said. “You are in the news. We know what some of those challenges are.

“I think the right candidate looks forward to coming in and helping to bring people together ... getting adults all on the same page, so everybody is looking in the same direction because we’re here for kids,” he added. “I think that is a huge draw in a community like this.”

While there have been some stumbles, O’Mara said the right leader will not be intimidated.

“I think most great leaders will see that as an opportunity and you want a great leader. You need a great leader,” he said.

Their presentation struck a chord with board members.

“I think what impressed me about them was their accelerated timeline in addition to just the experience of the individuals that came forward,” board member Terri Walker said at the July 27 meeting.

Board member Kay Gallo said initially she was leaning toward hiring the other firm but now supports Exec Connect.

“Reflecting back, I believe they had a better grasp of our district, of our community, and I believe that they will engage all of our stakeholders — community, parents, staff, faculty, board — and we will be able to have a robust search,” Gallo said.

Board member Jeff Waters, who could not attend the meeting, watched the presentations online.

“What I liked most about Exec Connect was the way in which they represented their thoughts about the district in a very positive light,” he said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean