What’s it like when you’re a Head of School/Superintendent candidate on the short list of a school that hasn’t done its homework? Dr. Blane Covert knows candidates who have interviewed for Head of School and Superintendent positions and has witnessed the most common missteps School Boards make during the search process. In this article, Dr. Covert shares an account from "Joseph," a principal at an independent school in the western United States who was approached about a Head of School position.
At the beginning of the year, Joseph got a phone call from the chair of the Board of Trustees at a well-respected independent school. After explaining to him that the school's long-standing Head had decided to retire at the end of this school year, the chair said that the search committee was ready to launch a search.
"Have you hired a search firm?" Joseph asked.
"No," said the chair. "We're going to do the search ourselves."
"How are you going to develop a list of candidates?" he asked.
"We're just going to advertise the position," the chair said.
"Do you know your school's educational philosophy?" Joseph asked.
"Do you know your school's pedagogical philosophy?" Joseph asked.
"Can you articulate your school's challenges and pinpoint what the Head will need to do in years 1, 3, and 5?" Joseph asked.
"Not yet, no."
I wish I could tell you that this was the first time I’d heard a candidate tell me about a conversation of this sort, but it wasn't. This school wasn't ready to hire a Head; in fact, they weren't even close. For starters, the Board MUST know the answers to these questions, among many others. Only when they're clear about what kind of candidate they want and need should they launch a search. The method this chair described is akin to throwing darts blindfolded--you may get lucky and hit the bullseye, but the odds are that you won't. It's far more likely that you'll hire a Head of School who isn't right for your school community. It's also likely that this new Head will immediately be in conflict with the Board. When the Board figures out that "This Head probably wasn't the right choice," it's back to square one. The teachers, parents, and students will not be impressed.
Choosing a Head of School is not a decision to be taken lightly. Although Boards are comprised of smart, committed, and well-intentioned members, those members usually aren't educators. They don't know the issues, they don't know which Head of School/Superintendent competencies are essential, and they've never hired a Head of School or Superintendent before. In short, they don't know what they don't know, and this is precisely why Head of School/Superintendent turnover rate is so high.
Finally, there's someone who can help. Dr. Blane Covert dedicated his doctoral research to Headmaster/Superintendent turnover and now prepares Boards of Trustees to successfully navigate the inherent complexities of the executive search process.
Get the help you need before you make a mistake that could set your school back ten years. Or more.