Consultant: No timeline set, no 'batch' of candidates in Muscogee County school superintendent search

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 8, 2013 

The man leading the Muscogee County School Board's renewed effort to find a superintendent isn't a new face and he doesn't even work for a search firm.

Glenn Brock was the board's consultant when it hired its past two superintendents, Susan Andrews and John Phillips Jr., who has been the interim superintendent since Andrews left June 30.

Brock is an attorney specializing in education law and public policy. His firm, Brock, Clay, Calhoun & Rogers LLC, has offices in Marietta, Ga., and Atlanta.

"The board asked me if I could help, and I have invested a lot of time in the district, and I think it's a great community," Brock said.

Billed as managing the largest education law practice in the state, Brock has represented Georgia school districts since 1988. He has served as counsel to state school superintendents, school board chairs and the Georgia Department of Education. He also was appointed special assistant attorney general to assist with state education department matters.

He has helped draft education-related legislation, including the law requiring fingerprinting of school employees and the Georgia constitutional amendment authorizing school districts to seek voter approval for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Andrews announced her retirement in March -- 11 months ago -- but the board didn't hire search firm McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Neb., until July. Board members have said none of the 22 superintendent applicants McPherson & Jacobson brought them fit all of their criteria, including five years of superintendent experience in a similar district. Nonetheless, the board interviewed four semifinalists in closed session Dec. 5 but still weren't impressed. So the board fired McPherson & Jacobson and hired Brock on Jan. 14.

The board is confident in Brock, chairman Rob Varner said, because of his track record -- although he did acknowledge Andrews, from adjacent Harris County, was hired over the finalists Brock presented: Felicia Mitchell of DeKalb County, Ga., and Faron Hollinger of Baldwin County, Ala.

"His work history has proven he's been able to deliver," Varner said.

Phillips began his tenure as Muscogee County School District superintendent Jan. 6, 2003, moving from Bartow County. The board hired Andrews on Dec. 1, 2008.

Varner didn't have an update on the search Friday, but he said he hopes to give the board one during Monday's 5 p.m. work session.

One at a time

Brock said he wasn't available to conduct the Muscogee County search when the board hired McPherson & Jacobson.

"I'm not a search firm that does multiple searches at a time," he said. "I try to focus on one at a time and really with only the large systems. If I'm in the middle of a search, it's unfair to take on another one."

He estimated he has completed 20-25 superintendent searches in the past 20 years.

"One problem these days with search firms is that they will shop candidates," he said. "I'm not downing search firms, but they may have candidates with applications in four or five districts, and, typically, that doesn't work well."

Brock explained why.

"It's not a cookie-cutter process," he said. "When it comes down to it, obviously there are educational pieces, but the very important piece is whether the superintendent and the school board have chemistry. Can they work together?"

Just as he does searches one at a time, Brock also doesn't bring applications to school boards in batches. There's no application deadline. He presents a candidate to the board when he determines that candidate is qualified and vetted.

"If you have a good candidate you know is ready and yet wait another two months to do a batch, the interest may be gone," he said. "Anytime you put artificial timelines around your process, you run into trouble. … It is a human experience, and a lot of it depends on circumstances beyond our control."

Brock listed the school district's diversity, location, sense of community and stability as qualities that should draw excellent candidates. "I think it's a good place to live," he said.

As for drawbacks, Brock wouldn't mention any, but he said, "There's no school system anywhere where every possible candidate wants to apply for the job."

Andrews retired a month earlier than she planned after the board rejected her appointments of seven principals and two other administrators. Six weeks later, the board approved the same slate -- but this time recommended by Phillips. Such controversy shouldn't be a red flag and cause superintendents to shy away from the vacancy, Brock said.

"No, not for the right candidate," he said. "The right candidate is going to assess the entire package. They're going to come to the conclusion that they can work with the school board. That's why the chemistry is one of the most important things."

Criteria

Brock said he has reviewed the board's criteria and the community survey McPherson & Jacobson conducted.

"I'll take all of that into consideration," he said. "… But there may be some criteria that they might not have thought about. I'm not going to check off yes or no. I'll bring them the best candidates I can."

Brock isn't sure whether he will run an ad for the job opening, he said. He prefers to go after educational professionals instead of waiting for them to come to him. It's all about networking.

"First of all, it's having plenty of conversations with candidates over the telephone, or, if they are more local, then perhaps meeting them," he said. "If they seem interested, they typically might want to do their own research. If they decide they are interested, we will have them complete a detailed application."

The contract with Brock is based on a rate of $300 per hour, not to exceed a total of $25,000. The school district already has paid McPherson & Jacobson $13,515 through two invoices: $12,950 on Oct. 22 for half of the contracted fee; $565 for advertising expenses. The other half of the $25,900 fee was supposed to be due upon the completion of the search. Tom Jacobson said last month that his firm still would seek final payment, but, as of Friday, the school district hasn't received that invoice, said board secretary Karen Jones.

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