Stiff competition revamps search for school chief
National consultant to assist panel
By Eun Lee Koh, Globe Staff Correspondent, 10/13/2002
shortage of qualified candidates, a precarious economy, and a student
population that has grown in number and diversity makes this search for a
new superintendent more challenging than the one seven years ago that found
Superintendent Mark C. Smith, Framingham school officials say.
They are adopting a more aggressive approach for what they expect will be an
extensive nationwide hunt.
Conversations about the search process and how to market to outsiders the
diverse school district of about 8,700 students began almost immediately after
Smith announced last month that he would step down at the end of the academic
year, the officials say.
The committee that embarks on the search this week will be markedly different
from the one in 1995. Most notably, it will be a smaller, nine-member panel and
will use a national education consulting firm to reach a wider number of
''In order to attract the best available candidate out there, we had to make a
changes,'' said Phil Dinsky, the School Committee chairman, who also is a member
of the search panel. ''This is a different time. There is a much smaller pool to
from, and this school is not your average suburban school. We have challenges
many other towns don't have, and it's important that we find someone who has the
experience and the political savvy to handle all of the things we face.''
Richard Green, a consultant for Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, a Glenview,
Ill.-based firm hired by the School Committee, said the competition to attract
qualified superintendents has become fiercer as the pool of candidates shrinks:
to 40 percent of superintendents and higher level school administrators
are expected to retire in the next five years.
''You have to start the search early and you have to be extremely aggressive,''
Green, a former superintendent who has aided several hundred districts in
superintendent searches. ''It becomes tougher as time goes on to find someone
is qualified for the position. That means going after qualified people who may
even be thinking about leaving their current jobs.''
Hoping to lure candidates quicker, the School Committee adopted a five-month
timetable for the search, much shorter than the seven months to a year that is
typical for the process. The plan calls for the consulting firm to select
by mid-December, the search panel to choose finalists by the end of January, and
pick a new superintendent by mid-February.
In a move that has generated some controversy, the School Committee also voted
to waive its current search policy that required a 24-member panel - including
teachers, students, and other community members - and replace it with a group of
nine, saying a smaller group would ensure more confidentiality in the current
The search panel now consists of three School Committee members, a Finance
Committee member, a Town Meeting member, and a member from the community
at large. The three remaining members, added after parents and teachers
complained that a six was too few, are a teacher, a principal, and a central
''If you want to get the best candidates, you have to make sure their hometown
doesn't know that they are applying for a job,'' Dinsky said. ''Having a larger
committee would mean that word could leak out, and it would compromise the
During the last search, some interviews were conducted in front of video
because not all 24 members could be present. As a result, several candidates
their confidentiality was compromised, Dinsky said. Public input will come
50- to 60-member focus groups at the beginning and end of the search, which
would offer guidance to the search panel. Appointment to the groups will be made
at future School Committee meetings.
The job of being a superintendent has become more complicated over the last
seven years, and the search panel will have to find a person who is able to
those complexities, said Smith, who will not have a formal role in the search
The next superintendent will inherit the successes of Smith's tenure - higher
scores and literacy rates, a smaller achievement gap between minority students
their peers, and a teaching staff that has tripled in diversity. But there also
several new challenges, according to School Committee members.
With 30 percent of the school district made up of students of color and nearly
percent with limited English proficiency, helping students to excel over the
several years amid severe funding cuts and new requirements by the state
Department of Education will be one of the biggest challenges for the next
Framingham's bilingual education system, lauded nationally as one of the most
successful models, also faces an uncertain future if voters decide in November
dismantle the state's current bilingual education program and replace it
with one-year English immersion programs.
The district has been hobbled by numerous state budget cuts, and residents
narrowly passed a property tax override in June, raising taxes to make up for a
budget shortfall, only to face about $1 million more in red ink just weeks
school year began, when the state eliminated reimbursement for charter school
''It isn't just about educating students anymore, but about funding and politics
testing and rules,'' said Peter Dittami, an education professor at Framingham
College who was on the search committee that picked Smith. ''Mark Smith was
excellent at all of them, and it's going to be really difficult to find someone
not only an educator, but also savvy about all that comes with being a
superintendent in a district like Framingham.''
Eun Lee Koh can be reached at 508-820-4238 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page W1 of the Globe West section on 10/13/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.