Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/286/west/Stiff_competition_revamps_search_for_school_chief+.shtml

Stiff competition revamps search for school chief

National consultant to assist panel
FRAMINGHAM
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 candidates.

''In order to attract the best available candidate out there, we had to make a lot of
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 draw
from, and this school is not your average suburban school. We have challenges that
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: 30
to 40 percent of superintendents and higher level school administrators nationwide
are expected to retire in the next five years.

''You have to start the search early and you have to be extremely aggressive,'' said
Green, a former superintendent who has aided several hundred districts in
superintendent searches. ''It becomes tougher as time goes on to find someone who
is qualified for the position. That means going after qualified people who may not
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 semifinalists
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 more
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
competitive climate.

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 office
administrator.

''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
process.''

During the last search, some interviews were conducted in front of video cameras,
because not all 24 members could be present. As a result, several candidates felt
their confidentiality was compromised, Dinsky said. Public input will come through
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 handle
those complexities, said Smith, who will not have a formal role in the search
process.

The next superintendent will inherit the successes of Smith's tenure - higher MCAS
scores and literacy rates, a smaller achievement gap between minority students and
their peers, and a teaching staff that has tripled in diversity. But there also will be
several new challenges, according to School Committee members.

With 30 percent of the school district made up of students of color and nearly 17
percent with limited English proficiency, helping students to excel over the next
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 leader,
Smith said.

Framingham's bilingual education system, lauded nationally as one of the most
successful models, also faces an uncertain future if voters decide in November to
dismantle the state's current bilingual education program and replace it statewide
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 before the
school year began, when the state eliminated reimbursement for charter school
tuition.

''It isn't just about educating students anymore, but about funding and politics and
testing and rules,'' said Peter Dittami, an education professor at Framingham State
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 who is
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 ekoh@globe.com.

This story ran on page W1 of the Globe West section on 10/13/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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