The Schenectady City School Board started its search for a new superintendent anew Wednesady night, grappling with the same tradeoffs between an open versus closed search process it faced nearly a year ago.
The board late last month announced it had failed to reach a contract agreement with the sole finalist who emerged after a monthslong search process. During Wednesday’s virtual board meeting, the board restarted discussions about what a search process should look like, with some board members arguing strongly for a completley closed process while others suggested they felt more community involvement was important.
“At this point, we are committed to starting a new search,” board President John Foley said beore the board dived into a lengthy discussion about what that search should look like.
During its last search, the board used a mixed approach that solicited public input into the desired characteristics of a superintendent at the outset of the search, using that information to develop the job posting and other materials. The board planned to then present a small number of finalists to groups of community and staff members to gather input before the board zeroed in on a final candidate; but by the time the board reached that process, one of two finalists had dropped out and the board only took one candidate to the community members. Some people criticized the process, including the local chapter of the NAACP, which withdrew from participating when it became clear only one candidate would go before the community groups.
Some board members appeared burned by how that process played out and argued on behalf of a more closed search, which could bypass the use of groups of community members who would be asked to sign confidentiality agreements to participate in those meetings.
Board member Ann Reilly expressed a reluctance to involve the community as deeply as the board did in the last search, citing the fact that the name of the lone finalist to meet with groups of community and staff members was ultimately publicized in the media.
“We chose community leaders, we chose parents, we let the union choose faculty, we chose other community leaders who weren’t parents… and at least one of those people violated that trust and signed a confidentiality agreement and violated it,” Reilly said. “And that is something I think we can’t forget.”
Reilly said she thought the last process was a hybrid approach and said she was worried about using a process that would again rely on community participants to maintain confidentiality.
At least two other board members appeared ready to back a closed search process as well. Board President John Foley, who noted he won’t be on the board when it ultimately makes a hiring decision because his term runs out in June, said he wanted the board to consider a closed search. Board member Andy Chestnut, who is running for another term in next month’s school board race, said he thinks a closed process is necessary to garner the best candidates. Pointing out that community members have called for both an open search process and a candidate with superintendent experience, Chestnut said those two desires may be in conflict.
“We want an orange, but you must pick it from the apple tree,” he said of the community’s desires.
Capital Region BOCES Superintendent Anita Murphy, who ran the last search, told the board that an open process turns away many of the most qualified potential candidates; at least one board member said Murphy had said she was approached by multiple people interested in the positon who did not want apply because of how open the last process was.
But board member Bernice Rivera argued that community trust and input is critical to ensuring a strong culture within the district and said she wanted to find ways to explore a more open search process, pulling up an article about the benefits of an open search that noted while board membes come and go, the community always remains. She also pointed to a recent BOCES study that found a culture of mistrust pervaded the district and said involving staff and community in the search was part of addressing those kinds of issues.
“I think it’s important we do make our communtiy, our families and our staff feel like they are part of the process,” Rivera said. “I would pause at this moment, personally, about doing a closed search.”
The board also discussed the possibility of hiring an outside consultant to help conduct a search, with mutliple members interested in at least inviting search companies to make proposals about how they would carry out a process. The board did not make any final decisions about how to move forward.