Chesterton Tribune



Consultants talk to public in Duneland Schools superintendent search

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The search for a new Duneland Schools superintendent is underway, and as part of that search the School Board’s contracted recruitment consultant, BWP & Associates, held a public outreach meeting Tuesday in the Chesterton Middle School auditorium.

The purpose of the meeting: to glean information on the community’s educational priorities, what folks perceive to be the system’s strengths as well as the challenges it faces going forward, and their preferences for the sort of person who should get the nod.

In fact the meeting needn’t have been held in the auditorium. A classroom would have done just as well: two hours before a lake-effect snow warning was to go into effect, only seven people attended, one of them a Chesterton Tribune reporter, another School Board President Kristin Kroeger.

Ron Barnes and Anne Noland of BWP pressed forward regardless, beginning the session by enunciating their and the School Board’s particular goal: to hire a superintendent with legs, in it for the long haul, who will remain with the Duneland Schools for 10 to 15 years.

BWP has begun by advertising the position--both statewide and nationwide--in several professional publications, Noland said: the American Association of School Administrators’ School Administrator monthly, for instance, and in Education Week. As of Tuesday, BWP has received 20 applications; Barnes guessed that in the end another 12 or 15 will probably be submitted.

Those applications are going directly to BWP, not to the School Board, Barnes said. Of those applications Barnes noted two things. First, they’ll all be treated equally. “All candidates who apply will be evaluated by the same criteria,” he said.

Second, they’ll all be treated confidentially. “This is a private search throughout,” Barnes observed, inasmuch as school administrators are no different from any other employed persons looking for a new job: it’s not in those persons’ best interests for their employers to know they’re looking for greener fields.

Once BWP is in possession of a final pool of applications, the firm will begin vetting them, using the data and criteria gathered from a number of stakeholder sessions--like Tuesday evening’s--to choose 10 to 15 candidates with whom to have face-to-face interviews. From those 10 to 15 BWP will then present a short-list of approximately six candidates to the School Board.

Two different things could happen at this point. As Kroeger noted, the School Board could quickly reach a unanimous decision on one of the six on the short-list. Or, instead, the School Board could opt to further winnow the six to a couple or three finalists. If the latter, a stakeholder committee will be formed and--working in confidence, its members agreeing to sign a non-disclosure document--will assess the finalists for best fit. The committee will then report its “impressions” to the School Board, Barnes said, and on the basis of those impressions the School Board will make its final decision.

After an offer is made and accepted, the successful candidate will meet with the School Board in a retreat, at which together they’ll “flesh out” four to five priorities to be pursued by the new superintendent in his or her first year. Those priorities will become the “template,” Barnes said, for evaluating the new super’s ongoing performance.

Stakeholder Data

In order to short-list, winnow, and evaluate candidates, however, BWP is looking to compile a body of “data,” as Barnes put it, capable of defining the community’s attitudes toward the school system and its administration. Tuesday’s meeting at CMS was, in fact, the last one in a day which, Noland said, began around 6 a.m. Throughout the day she and Barnes met with all five members of the School Board, individually; with representatives of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce; and with both teacher and student representatives.

To each of the day’s focus groups Noland and Barnes put these questions: what are the strengths of the Duneland Schools? What challenges does the system face going forward? and what special traits or skills or characteristics do you want to see in the successful candidate?

Guided by Barnes, the handful of attendees offered these views:

--Duneland Schools’ strengths: athletics; speech and debate and other academic extracurriculars; “breadth of programs”; growing enrollment; “great teachers who are innovative”; a community in which people want to live and to which Chicagoland refugees are migrating.

--Challenges: “to draw good teachers, I’ve heard our pay is lacking”; a trickling exodus of teachers to better compensating systems; the expiration in 2020 of the extra property-tax levy narrowly approved by referendum in 2012.

--Expectations of the new superintendent: a person who knows the difference between pedagogical or administrative “fads” and genuine innovation; someone with experience in referendums; someone who not only resides in the community but is active in it; a person with “vision,” “wisdom,” and “tech savviness,” skilled at planning, capable of communicating clearly both internally--to staff and students--and externally, at large and in public; “dynamic but not slick.”

Folks who want to add their own views may do so through Friday, by completing an online survey available at the Duneland Schools website,


Posted 3/16/2017




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