Search firm details results of public input on Urbana superintendent

Search firm details results of public input on Urbana superintendent

URBANA — Twenty focus groups, two open forums and one online survey later, Minnesota-based School Exec Connect has generated a long list of ideal qualities for the next superintendent of Urbana schools.

School board members heard a long list of those qualities — and the conditions that inspired community members to request them — Tuesday evening, where a School Exec Connect representative presented its data-gathering methods in detail.

The 20 focus groups that included a "wide variety of stakeholders" got input from a total of 187 people. Two open forums gathered input from another 40, and an online survey of Urbana residents — with French, Spanish and English options — received 540 responses, most in English. School Exec Connect combined all three to create its list, representative Diane Robertson said.

"The first way it can be used is as a screening tool and an interview tool for when we are looking for candidates," she said. "The board can use it to get a better understanding of the community's thinking. Also, the community and candidates can review it and get a better idea of what's going on and the thoughts of the community."

But given its exhaustive nature, Robertson added that "it's important for everyone to remember we're not going to find a candidate that has all the qualities that are on the profile, but we will try to find candidates who have most of them."

Many of the themes that emerged from the focus groups and the online survey overlapped: community members — ranging from high-level and non-certified staff to business and community leaders, as well as parents and students — hoped for a new superintendent who would be "collaborative" and an "effective team-builder," someone visible both in and out of the district who is "visionary" and "forward thinking."

"Many times, if the person could be bilingual, that would be a plus too," Robertson said. "People didn't necessarily feel that had to be a must-have but would mention many times that if this person would be bilingual, that would help."

School Exec Connect also created its own analysis of the community feedback, couching some of the pressing issues it noted in strong language.

"There are fractured trust layers throughout the organization," Robertson said. "This has severely damaged the organization and has resulted in the loss of key staff, morale erosion and a culture of fear at every level. This exodus is likely to continue until trust and rapport is re-established. The new leader needs to be able to re-establish trust and collegiality on every level, from the board to the central office, students, parents, staff and community.

"Due to the exodus ... a wealth of institutional knowledge is no longer available to those who continue employment with the district," she said. "A system of checks and balances from the boardroom to the classroom has been missing. The new superintendent should develop a process for holding all parties accountable for successfully fulfilling their individual roles. This includes the board of education, central office staff, administrators, teachers, students and parents."

The firm also echoed a previous board call for formal mentoring of new district administrators — who are numerous at the district's secondary schools.

Robertson said the point wasn't to harp on the district but to emphasize the strengths needed for the incoming leader, who will also be in charge of appointing two new assistant superintendents once hired. The draws to Urbana — both as a community and as a school district — were just as numerous as the issues people had with prior administration, she said.

"It's a micro-urban community — that came out almost first," Robertson said. "It's a diverse community — that came out first a lot. The UI was mentioned every time as an asset; partnerships you have or had with the UI were strengths, and also partnerships with local businesses. Dual-language was mentioned many times as being a strength."

Should all things with the search go to plan, Robertson said board members could be conducting interviews of a slate of five to seven candidates on April 26-27, with a selection ready to announce by early to mid-May.

Board member Peggy Patten asked Robertson if that process was "faster than most."

"It's a little tight, but it's not unreasonable," Robertson said. "It's not uncommon that within the last 7-10 days, we get the big push. One of our promises was if we can't find some good candidates ... we're going to come to you and say, 'We need to put a pause on this' or recommend that you continue in an interim situation while we continue to look for good, quality candidates.

"We would rather take our time than bring you somebody you feel you have to settle for."

There are already applicants, she added, with some waiting to see "what the profile shakes out to be."

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