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Park City School District plans for superintendent search

Frank Fisher, Of the Record staff

When searching for a superintendent who can keep the Park City School District on its quest of being among the top-10 districts in the nation, is it better to look for someone seasoned, with a resume-full of experience, or look for an up-and-comer, with little experience but a slew of fresh ideas?

Should the district seek someone hungry for the job, or look to pluck an administrator who is happily employed and has no plans of leaving his position, but for a sweet deal? These were some of the considerations school board members faced as they discussed hiring strategy with a professional recruiter at the last school board meeting of the year, held on Dec. 5.

There was one important consensus. It is time to begin the search.

Richard Stowell, the executive director of the Utah School Board Association, (USBA) was recruited to help the Park City School District find a new superintendent to fill the position vacated by Dave Adamson in the summer of 2006. Acting superintendent Tom Van Gorder has held the position until a permanent superintendent can be found.

Soon after Adamson’s retirement, Stowell was asked to look for a qualified replacement, but the board halted the process after receiving a limited number of qualified applicants, deciding to take more time to find the very best person to fill the superintendent position.

The school board considered hiring a private head-hunting firm to recruit from a pool of candidates screened by the service. That idea fell by the wayside, and the board has once again returned to Stowell, who said he could draw candidates from school board associations across the country, and from university employment connections and Web sites. There is no charge to the district for the association’s recruitment services.

Stowell addressed the board. "We appreciate the opportunity of being able to be of service to our school district," he said. "You’re doing the driving here. We’ll do as much or as little as you’d like us to. Let us know what direction you want to go."

"A superintendent holds a very challenging and demanding position," Stowell said. "The job of superintendent has lost a lot of its glamour. It’s a job of high pressure and high demand. Most people in education would probably prefer to be an elementary school principal. The superintendent is right on the hot seat," he said. "It’s a huge system and the superintendent has to keep a finger on the pulse of everything going on in that system. You are looking for someone with real technical skills and with real people skills. You put all those requirements together and you find there are not too many Supermen or Superwomen out there."

He said that the USBA, together with associations in the other 50 states, could get a brochure circulated.

Stowell suggested beginning the search, considering school principals in Utah, depending on whether the district is looking for a rising star with enthusiasm, or someone with a lot of experience, possibly as a former superintendent.

Board member Lisa Kirchenheiter, asked Stowell which he thought would be better — a rising star, or somebody with a lot of experience, maybe looking at retirement. He saw advantages of both but ended with, "it depends on what you’re looking for."

Vern Christensen, a school board member, asked Stowell if he makes cold calls to solicit people already happily employed,

‘We have not made cold-calls," Stowell said. Instead, he said he has had success circulating mailers to people who express interest in the position. "We do use University recruitment; they will send mailers to graduates who have moved on. That’s a little like what you’re talking about."

"So it’s passive rather than active?" Christensen asked.

"Yes, but we’ll certainly do anything you want us to do, Stowell said.

"We went through the passive process last time, got 20 applications and decided not to do anything," Christensen said. He went on to say that the disadvantage of hiring someone through the passive process is that several applicants have been superintendents before and for whatever reason, are not superintendents now, and may have "skeletons in their closets."

"To be honest, we’ll likely get 20-25 applicants. We can’t pay the salary they pay back East," Stowell said. When the discussion came to salary, Stowell thought it was important to find the going rate of school districts in similar situations to Park City, but he estimated a salary range from $115,000 to 125,000 per year.

One concern shared by Stowell and board members is attracting a superintendent to a town that has high housing prices. The positive side to Park City, however, Stowell and board members agreed, is it could attract candidates who like to ski. The board decided to mention the ski town superintendent position on the Park City Chamber of Commerce Web site. The down side — a good superintendent may have little time to ski.

Stowell recommended, especially if the board is considering principals to fill the position, an optimal window of time to search for candidates of between 45 to 60 days to have the position open, begins in early January. Less time, he suggested, would not be enough time to get the information circulated. If longer than around 60 days, applicants may not feel a sense of urgency to apply.

He recommended getting the word out to university placement center Web sites.

With many questions remaining of what the new superintendent should look like, Stowell said, "if you identify characteristics beforehand, that will certainly make the selection process a lot easier."


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