Consultants to the Skaneateles Board of Education on the hiring of a new district superintendent spent an entire day last week meeting with students, teachers, administrators, parents and residents in the district in order to get a sense of what characteristics the community wants in its new school district leader.
Henry J. Peris, Tim McElheran and Fred Wilie, of the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, will use all the feedback they collected, along with the results of a community survey posted online by the BOE, to report to the board the qualities it should seek in a new superintendent.
“There’s going to be a lot of interest in this position” because of geographic location, district success and community involvement, Peris said during the community forum on Monday, Nov. 19. “We know we will attract a strong field of candidates.”
The Skaneateles BOE hired consultants from the Warner School in late October to assist in the search for its next superintendent. Each of the consultants – including Bob McClure, who was not present at last week’s meetings – has more than a dozen years’ experience as former superintendents, and have conducted superintendent searches for multiple school districts around the state.
The men are currently consulting districts in Canandaigua and Grand Island, as well as Skaneateles, on superintendent searches.
Peris began the forum, which was attended by about 20 people, by offering statistics on the current state of administrative realities across the state, including age, gender, length of service and average retirement age. He said more districts in recent years are promoting superintendents from within their own district rather than hiring from outside, and 95 percent of all superintendents do not live within the district at the time of hiring.
“Residency is a key issue that boards of education must grapple with,” Peris said. “Do you want the best candidate, or the best candidate you can find who will live in Skaneateles?”
Peris asked the audience, for example, if the BOE had a strong candidate from Camillus, should they require that person to move into the Skaneateles district, or allow for individual circumstances as long as they live in a reasonable proximity to the district?
“Relocation is a major issue,” Peris said, citing spousal and children considerations, cost of living, geographic location and job security, since, in New York state, superintendents do not receive tenure and are contracted with for three to five years.
During the discussion and feedback portion of the forum, attendees had numerous questions and comments for the consultants. Community members who spoke were not asked their names in order for their comments to all be considered equally by the BOE without any possibility of personal prejudices, Peris said. Similarly, no BOE members were present at the forum in order for residents to feel comfortable in making their comments.
Residents offered a multitude of opinions as to what they believe makes a successful superintendent, which Peris boiled down to as being a strong decision maker with a strong sense of moral purpose who will not pander to one interest group over another. Speakers also said they wanted a person who was good at managing change, looking toward the changing future of the district, developing the next generation of leadership in the district, good at communicating with the community and not afraid to think outside the box.
Attendees were split on whether or not the next superintendent must reside within the school district.
The consultants also were asked what they thought were important characteristics for a superintendent. McElheran said the person should be a “collaborative leader” who will work with and be accessible to the staff, as well as be visible to and engaged with the community. “People skills are as important as they [academic] degrees they hold,” he said.
Peris said a superintendent must understand the “art and science of teaching,” and what goes on in the classroom. He or she must also have “one foot in the future” to be prepared for and adaptive to change.
After the forum, the consultants went to the district office to meet with the board of education, which was holding its regularly-scheduled meeting that night.
BOE President Evan Dreyfuss said the consultants offered the board a number of items to consider in its search. He said the board is currently undecided on whether to require the next superintendent to live in Skaneateles or not. “We’re split right now; we’ll wait to see what the community survey says,” Dreyfuss said.
He said there are positives and negatives associated with a residency requirement, and the board may give whoever they hire 12 to 18 months in which to move to the district. The board also already has agreed to give the new hire up to $7,500 in moving costs if required, Dreyfuss said.
The BOE already has decided to offer whoever they hire a three-year contract, with a salary range of $150,000 to $180,000 depending on the experience and qualifications of the candidate, Dreyfuss said.
The typical salary for the superintendent of a district in Onondaga County the size of Skaneateles is $140,000, but for a district at the quality level of Skaneateles the average salary is about $175,000, he said. Comparatively, similar districts in Rochester pay more than $200,000 to superintendents.
When Skaneateles hired former superintendent Phil D’Angelo a decade ago, he was paid $155,000, Dreyfuss said.
The job position posting will be kept up probably until the end of January 2013, Dreyfuss said. At that time, the BOE hopes they will have a pool of 30 to 40 candidates, which the consultants will help the board narrow down to 10 or 12, who will be invited to the district for interviews.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.