Wanted: An Experienced Leader to Stay Put

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Most everybody wants the new superintendent for the Laguna Beach Unified School District to be here for the long haul, according to preliminary input from meetings with the public, students, district staff and board members.

They don’t want the new superintendent to use the position as a stepping-stone to another position, said Joe Farley, a consultant for Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, a Palo Alto executive search firm hired to recruit a new leader for the district.

“Anybody could say anything at this stage in the job hunt,” said Farley, “but I’m saying to them ‘You cannot take this job and think you’re going to use it as a stepping stone to somewhere else.’ If it’s somebody who’s saying they’re planning on retiring in four years, I’m going to say to them, ‘Well, that’s not going to work.’”

Anxiety is high, Farley said in an interview this week, adding that that’s natural when hiring the person who will oversee the district’s future. “It’s just that everybody cares so much about the district,” he said. “They know this is an important position and it impacts a lot of things in the district. They want to make sure it’s somebody who will take them from a good place to an even better place.”

The top qualities articulated so far are a commitment to stay with the small district for at least 10 years and a background as an educator, preferably a teacher, principal or existing assistant superintendent or superintendent, he said. “They’re not ruling out the possibility of somebody who hasn’t worked at a district level and is still an educator.” LBUSD has four schools that run from pre-kindergarten to 12thgrade.

The school district has offered financial incentives to encourage long tenure as well as early retirements, said Leisa Winston, the district’s director of human resources and public communications. One-year contract renewals with quarterly reviews have also been part of the district’s employee review process.

Superintendent contracts may not exceed four years, according to the California Education Code. The superintendent can fulfill a consecutive contract, if all parties agree, according to the code.

“I can’t see the board giving someone a 10-year contract,” said former district board member Theresa O’Hare, who was a member for eight years and left in 2014. “How would you know the person really has the qualities you want?” That’s why, said O’Hare, the contract is renewable every year.

After six years at the district, Supt. Sherine Smith is retiring next June. Smith earned her doctorate during her tenure as LBUSD’s superintendent and recently took a part-time position teaching an online course on school finances and resources for Brandman University in Irvine, which is part of the Chapman University System.

Her predecessor, Robert Fraisse, signed a four-year contract, but gave a year’s notice that he wanted to exit a year early, on June 30, 2010, O’Hare said.

“A board always has a way out if they make a mistake,” said Farley. Our job is to bring a candidate where that will be unlikely.” Farley said he has met with each of the five school board members privately. “My hope is, obviously, that we’re not going to get somebody they have any question about,” he said. “A really skilled superintendent can work with any board.”

Only four high school teachers total showed up for two meetings with Laguna Beach High School staff, Farley said, while 32 teachers showed up for the meeting at El Morro Elementary School.

More meetings will be conducted and a report of the findings presented to the district’s board of directors in an open meeting after the holidays, Farley said.

The people attending the meetings have expressed pride in the students’ abilities, extracurricular opportunities for students, the district’s facilities and recent upgrades in technology.

 

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