Before the DeKalb County Board of Education voted Wednesday to approve the search firm charged with finding its next superintendent, several members publicly spoke about lessons learned from the last go-round.
That 2015 experience included a search firm fired during the process and worries about possible misconduct and unexplained relationships with people the firm was trying to place in jobs. Superintendent Steve Green, who emerged from that firm’s efforts, announced in May that he would not stay beyond the current school year. The school board’s actions — they offered Green one-year contract extensions in 2016 and 2017, but none since — had already suggested they sought a new direction.
During the meeting, the board selected BWP & Associates, based in Libertyville, Ill., from four firms that responded to the district’s request for someone to run the process to replace Green.
Green did not attend the meeting.
Based on criteria the district listed — cost, a superintendent-placement track record and finding a diverse candidate pool, among other things — another firm actually emerged ahead of BWP. Board members suggested they went with BWP over Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates because of past experience with that firm. Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates was paid about $140,000 in 2016 and tasked with finding candidates for eight administrative positions, but many who received those jobs were hand-picked by Green or recommended to him by others working in the district.
The evaluating committee, which included board vice chairman Marshall Orson and members Vickie Turner and Diijon DaCosta, selected BWP after interviewing both firms.
“We know this is a very critical function of the board,” Orson said of selecting a superintendent, “and (the process) doesn’t come around very often. We’ve got to get it right.”
Officials said board members would be contacted individually by the search firm as it begins working to determine the type of candidate that would best suit the district’s needs. Residents and former school board leaders have said the next superintendent should know how to address challenges faced by the district’s students as well as being transparent, collaborative and able to establish relationships within the community, among other things.
Board member Joyce Morley reminded the board that she was not heavily involved in the previous search because she thought it to be tainted from the outset. She mentioned that the board ultimately fired the firm that handled the search that ended with Green’s hiring, PROACT Search, due to misconduct allegations against SUPES Academy, which was run by the same person. At the time, the FBI was investigating a $20 million no-bid contract given by Chicago Public Schools to SUPES Academy and what role was played by the school’s CEO, who is a former SUPES employee. DeKalb paid PROACT Search about $16,000 of its $25,000 contract for the search.
“A lot of questions were not asked … about disclosures for any relationships,” Morley said. “The previous process was a debacle. Bottom line is we don’t have time to waste.”
Turner said it would take a group effort to find the best candidate for the district.
“It is essential we get someone in here who understands the importance of building relationships,” she said. “They have to understand the culture of DeKalb County. And it’s going to take all of us (being involved). The stakes are high, and (they are) our children.”
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