Herald Journal Columns
March 18, 2002 Herald and Journal
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Only school board members should be involved in hiring superintendent


When I was serving on the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board the last couple years, I didn't have the opportunity to hire a new superintendent.

Now that the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted board is wrestling with the process, I can't resist offering some advice.

First, what I learned on the board is that the board actually has very little control, impact, or authority over how the school is operated.

Most of the decisions are either mandated by law, or in practicality, fall back on the administration's expertise.

Realistically, that is how it needs to be.

Though board members have deep, sincere interests in doing the best they can for their school, they are part-timers who go to a few meetings a month.

It is the full-time administrators who really have the knowledge, experience, and the time to manage a school district.

Thus, it depends on the quality of the superintendent as to how well a district functions.

The superintendent is in the position of being responsible for essentially everything that goes on in a school district.

Shortly after being elected, new board members are whisked off to a Minnesota School Boards Association orientation session and told how little they can do.

No board member can act individually, and the board itself only has authority while it is in session. All board communications are to go through proper channels, which means to the superintendent first, and then down from there.

A board is really at the mercy of how good its superintendent is.

Therefore, when a school district needs to hire a superintendent, I am absolutely convinced that no one other than board members themselves should be involved in the selection process.

In too many places, I've seen where hiring a superintendent turns into a community event. Everybody wants input, everybody wants veto power, and what you end up with is a poor choice.

Remember that the board members can do very little. The superintendent is the person that they hand over the keys to, and entrust him/her to drive the system that educates our children.

The greatest decision any school board can ever make is in selecting the person who is given that responsibility.

A board needs to have total trust and confidence in its superintendent. In order to have that, the board members themselves must decide who that person is.

Sure, it's tempting to let everyone else have input ­ even staff members who would then have a role in choosing their next boss. But that would be a mistake.

For the school board as an employer, this is the employment decision around which everything else revolves.

For the board to be effective, for the school system to be effective, the board must choose its administrative leader, not have him handed over by an over-sized community committee.

All that said, I have no direction as to whether the entire board or a committee of the board makes the selection, or whether the process is done in public meetings or in more private settings.

The bottom line is that no one other than school board members should be involved in any way in selecting a superintendent.

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