Forum Defines a Super Superintendent

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At the first public forum Tuesday to discuss desired qualities in a new school district superintendent, local knowledge of the community received high marks.

Sherine Smith will retire next June. Her replacement is being sought.
Sherine Smith will retire next June. Her replacement is being sought.

The desired attributes were suggested by the audience of 30 community members and written on large sheets of paper posted at the front of the room. Participants were given two red dots to indicate their preferences from a long list of characteristics.

Laying out both the positives and the negatives of an issue with complete transparency and honesty suggested by parent Amy Hundhausen was another desirable quality. “Don’t put lipstick on a pig, keep it forthright,” she said.

Other qualities and skills receiving red dots were heart, trust and the ability to work with staff, parents and students in a personable manner. A proven track record of producing the desired results and the capacity to build programs and students’ abilities in a changing environment were also discussed.

In an above-average community in income and education, a town rich in history, a school district that is uniquely funded by property tax revenue with only four schools, the district has “the chance of being one of the finest in America,” said Michael O’Neill.

“Can you imagine the community, instead of being opposed to the superintendent, being an incredible force for the superintendent?” he asked. O’Neill said he works with incarcerated youth and deaf students and has nine retired superintendents who work with him. “They tell me 100 people will apply for this superintendent’s job.” O’Neill also suggested that the district reach out to more community groups to get them involved in the process.

Other recommended qualities and abilities were integrity, out-of-the-box thinking, sensitivity to a well-rounded program that includes all learning styles, embracing diversity, ability to manage controversy and anticipate needs, approachable, supportive of staff as well as parents and fiscal responsibility.

The meeting was the first of its kind to seek outside input on selecting a new superintendent for Laguna Beach Unified School District. After six years at the district, Supt. Sherine Smith is retiring next June. She did not attend the meeting. Bill Landsiedel was the only board member absent.

The suggested attributes and skills will be used to formulate questions that executive search firms will ask of candidates applying for the position, said Kathy Kessler, who led the forum and is a retired Huntington Beach superintendent. Kessler also served as interim director of human resources and public communications at LBUSD in 2013.

“Can I commend your board, because most boards do not take the extra steps to do this,” Kessler said. “They’re going into the process with the heart of the community as you’ve shared it.”

The school board will select a search firm in October from a list presented by school administrators at the Nov. 9 meeting, said Leisa Winston, director of human resources with more forums in the future.


An article in the Oct. 2 edition, Forum Defines a Super Superintendent, incorrectly said staff will select search firms for consideration. In fact, the board will consider search firms that submit a proposal.


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