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HISD trustees to seek public input, conduct confidential superintendent search

November 29, 2018

Houston ISD trustees agreed Wednesday to solicit community feedback about the district’s superintendent search through in-person meetings and online surveys in January 2019, while also choosing to keep the names of applicants confidential throughout the process.

With nearly all board members gathered for a meeting with their superintendent search firm, trustees for the first time outlined their desired aims for selecting a permanent district leader by their self-imposed deadline of April 30, 2019. Trustees expressed desire to receive community input while also taking advantage of work by the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, which conducted the 2016 search that landed Richard Carranza.

HISD has been without a permanent superintendent since March, when Carranza abruptly resigned to become chancellor of New York City public schools. Former chief academic officer Grenita Lathan has served as the district’s interim leader, though her tenure has been blemished by a covert attempt by five trustees to replace her in October.

Hank Gmitro, president of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, said his firm has publicly posted the job and will independently seek out candidates.

“The reality of most large-system searches is the people who get selected aren’t people who applied for the job,” Gmitro said, adding he has had about a half-dozen individuals contact him about their interest in the position.

Board members in attendance agreed the search firm should hold five days’ worth of community meetings in mid-January 2019 with various constituencies, allowing for public feedback on desired qualities of a potential superintendent. Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates conducted 10 days’ worth of in-person meetings during the 2016 search.

An online survey is expected to be posted on the district’s website for two weeks, from mid- to late January 2019.

“I wish as much of a resemblance of the diversity that we have can be included,” HISD Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to reach people who aren’t attached to network-type groups to participate, especially if their students attend our schools.”

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates generated a 62-page report in 2016 summarizing community feedback and describing desired characteristics of a potential HISD leader. Trustee Anne Sung said some of her constituents told her the report remains “very relevant and applicable today, but still the community would like to have input.”

Trustees unanimously supported a confidential search, meaning the names of applicants and serious candidates are not released to the public, with the exception of a legally-mandated notification of a lone finalist 21 days before any contract is finalized. Some potential applicants are reluctant to seek the position if their name is publicly released, fearful of backlash from their current employers and constituents.

Trustees are expected to conduct an initial round of interviews with candidates over three days in early March 2019, followed by two days of finalist interviews in late March.

Potential applicants likely will see several positives and potential drawbacks for taking HISD’s top job.

HISD’s standing as the nation’s seventh-largest district, in one of the nation’s most diverse cities, likely will entice candidates. It remains one of the nation’s higher-achieving and innovative urban school districts, despite significant attention paid recently to the performance of several long-struggling campuses.

At the same time, HISD’s school board has been roundly criticized for its combative behavior in recent months. Prior to his departure, Carranza blasted board members for overstepping their roles, micromanaging district operations and failing to have constructive discussions about issues. The district also faces the possibility of a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board due to chronically low performance at a few schools.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

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