Supt. search timeline comes into focus

Open forums, focus groups and an online survey are tools the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board will employ over the next several weeks at it seeks community input in the search for a new superintendent.

At the Aug. 24 meeting, representatives from search firm School Exec Connect laid out the timeline for hiring a top district administrator by the end of the year. The first phase, slated for late September, will involve two open forums — one for the public and another for school staff — and more targeted focus group sessions to collect input on desired qualifications. The survey will be available to everyone.

“The process over the next five or six weeks is gathering information as we prepare to put the profile together,” Brian Barnhart, superintendent of Western Springs Elementary District 101 and School Exec Connect consultant, told board members. “The online survey will come out very soon — a date yet to be determined ­— and we’ll come out (Sept.) 27 and 28, tentatively, to speak with the focus groups and also the two open forums.”

The resulting profile will be presented at the board’s Oct. 12 meeting, and subsequently a slate of five to seven candidates will be brought forward for consideration in closed session at the board’s Nov. 16 meeting. After a round of interviews, the board will narrow down to two or three with a vision of finalizing a contract with the top choice at the Dec. 21 board meeting.

“You will have to designate some time so you can do the semifinalist and finalist interviews,” Barnhart said of the series of sessions required in the selection phase.

To help ensure a diverse representation in both the 10-12-person focus groups and possible candidate vetting committees, School Exec Connect’s Kevin O’Mara suggested the principals recruit volunteers.

“The less hands-on the board is with selecting focus group members and committees the better, because there could be a misconception that the board just wants its favorites on the committee,” he said.

Board member Debbie Levinthal agreed.

“I think (Hinsdale Central principal Bill Walsh and Hinsdale South principal Patrick Hardy) are both very well connected with their communities, and I think the board should be removed, so to speak, from the job so that there’s a wide variety of voices,” Levinthal said.

“I’ve found that the survey results and the focus group results often align very closely,” Interim Superintendent Linda Yonke said.

O’Mara said the board also will be equipped to evaluate the candidates when the semifinalists are presented Nov. 16.

“A second feature of that meeting is to do an interview workshop with you so you have all of our tools, including sample interview questions and rubrics that we have developed,” he said.

Barnhart said a list superintendent compensation packages from comparable districts will be provided.

“If your neighbor is paying ‘X’ amount of dollars, you’re probably going to be in that ballpark somewhere,” he said.

Yonke, following a recommendation by O’Mara, will serve as district liaison for the search firm, with whom she has worked before.

O’Mara encouraged the district to leverage its communication platforms to promote public engagement in the process.

“You want to make sure this is front and center for every day leading up to this,” he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean