Richard Hyatt: Search for superintendent won't be easy

September 4, 2012 

It was March when Susan Andrews first mentioned she was retiring as school superintendent. Six months later all we have is a temp, but the sluggishness of the hiring process doesn't concern board chairwoman Cathy Williams.

While the board was worrying about elections and making the transition from Andrews to interim leader John Phillips, the search firm they hired has been setting up a plan of attack that brings them to town for three important meetings on Sept. 18.

On that busy Tuesday, representatives of McPherson & Jacobson LLC ( will meet with citizens and educators in three separate forums, Williams said.

These sessions will prepare the firm for the screening of candidates that should be introduced to the board in December.

If that timetable sounds ambitious, consider that the educational headhunters from Nebraska are also conducting searches for the North Little Rock School District in Arkansas, the Duval County Public Schools in Florida, the Bethalto Community Unit in Illinois and the Jenks Public Schools in Okalahoma.

Founding partner Thomas Jacobson said the input sessions build trust in a process that he wants to be transparent.

"Transparency builds trust. When you meaningfully involve people in the process they tend to support the candidate that is selected," said Jacobson, a former superintendent himself.

Openness sets his firm apart from others -- which he tells the potential candidates.

"Finalists should be proud they're a finalists," he said.

Trust is important in a community that showed lukewarm support for the board during July elections.

Two of the four incumbents on the local ballot were defeated, meaning a pair of lame duck members will help select the new superintendent.

Jacobson's team has dealt with such issues before.

In Duval County, four incumbents were turned out on Election Day in Jacksonville, leaving behind a wounded board. Despite the political upheaval, the firm has walked gingerly through the minefield.

On Tuesday, three finalists were announced in Duval but there is public sentiment for a fourth option.

Some call for the board to fire the search firm and start over, saying that none of the final choices is the "transformational leader" that was promised.

Muscogee County has its own issues, starting with a season of unrest throughout the school system.

An anonymous citizen's group known as "Boot the Board" sprang up and its website and television advertising had an impact on board elections.

Though he originally kept his name private, political adviser Frank Myers has confirmed he was the instigator behind the movement.

Myers, a former chairman of the Muscogee Democratic Party, tells people that in 2014 the group intends to work against board members that don't deal with the teacher furlough issue.

This is the atmosphere McPherson & Jacobson faces as the search process picks up speed and that is also the deep water awaiting the next superintendent, whoever it may be.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at

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