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School Board Surveys Superintendent Search Strategy: Leadership Associates Set Superintendent Search Timetable

In a lengthy Jan. 20 meeting with executives from Leadership Associates, the headhunting firm it picked to find Tim Cuneo’s successor, members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board shared the qualities and professional accomplishments they would like to see in the district’s next leader.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to someone with a business degree,” said board member Nimish Patel, who, with Laurie Lieberman, are the body’s newest members. For her part, Lieberman suggested the candidate was “someone who inspires confidence … [and] has technological skills.”

Veteran board member Oscar de la Torre said he was looking for someone who was a “natural collaborator” and was able to “leverage resources outside the school district” – perhaps a nod to new Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John E. Deasy, a former SMMUSD superintendent who was employed by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation before arriving to the LAUSD last year.

Board member Maria Leon-Vasquez suggested and president Jose Escarce agreed that it would be preferable for the district’s next leader to be bilingual in Spanish and English, in order to be able to more effectively communicate with the district’s Latino community. Neither pushed for it to be a requirement, however.

The issue of tenure figured prominently during the meeting. Patel said he “would like a candidate who wants to be here in the long term” and wanted “to settle here but not settle for status quo,” adding that he would like to get input from former board members Barry Snell and Kelly Pye. Leadership Associates executive Peggy Lynch refuted de la Torre’s suggestion that the national average for superintendent tenure with a district was two-and-half years, suggesting it was closer to five-to-eight years in suburban districts.

“Ultimately it comes down to the working relationship with the board,” Lynch said.

Leadership Associates, which the district is paying an all-inclusive sum of $28,500 to find candidates, provided an activity timetable for the search. Following local forums, the firm will advertise the job in Feb. 14 and Feb. 21 issues of a trade publication and include a March 10 application deadline. On March 23, Leadership Associates would meet with the district to go over finalists, at which time it will turn over all of the applications received. It would begin interviewing the four or five finalists on April 2, according to Lynch.

Lynch advised all potential candidates to contact the firm instead of any district board members or staff.

“We’ve had 10 people request applications online already,” she said.

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