National search process for next Scottsdale Schools superintendent commences

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board, Acting Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard and Executive Admin Coordinator to Superintendent & Gov. Board Sondra Como. (photo by SUSD)

The first steps to Scottsdale Unified School District’s superintendent search unfolded on Tuesday, Sept. 25, as the Governing Board combed through the details of their national hunt.

For more than three hours, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board and top officials discussed with Tom Jacobson, CEO of Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson LLC, the process their national search for a new superintendent would entail.

The recruiting and development firm was hired by the Governing Board on Aug. 30, and a decision to abandon an interim superintendent search to instead extend Acting Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard’s contract through June 30, 2019, or until a permanent leader is selected was made.

McPherson & Jacobson’s cost submitted in their Request for Qualifications response to the district was $36,900, documents provided by the school district show.

During the September study session, the Governing Board asked several questions including timing, advertising options, compensation packages and the interview process. Mr. Jacobson recommended the new board to be installed in January 2019 be the one making the final decision on hiring.

The upcoming Nov. 6 election includes two open seats on the Governing Board. Members Kim Hartmann and Pam Kirby are not seeking re-election.

“I think it’s important that the person is hired by their immediate board they’re going to work for,” Mr. Jacobson said of moving the search dates up so the current board was to make the final decisions. “I don’t know that there’s any benefit to it. My recommendation is the newly elected board.”

The approved calendar created on Sept. 25 is:

  • Sept. 27: approve announcement of vacancy
  • No later than Oct. 5: Advertising brochure
  • Week of Oct. 22: Stakeholder meetings
  • Nov. 8: Stakeholder meeting report sent to board and posted publicly (both M&J and SUSD websites)
  • Nov. 16: Compensation report to the board and posted on websites
  • Nov. 19: Governing Board meeting as recommended
  • Nov. 27: Closing date for applications
  • Dec. 18 (subject to consultants’ schedule): Governing Board meeting as recommended
  • Jan. 22-25: Week of in person interviews
  • Jan. 28: Governing Board executive session

The calendar was approved by the Governing Board, 4-1, with board member Sandy Kravetz dissenting.

To start the search process off, Mr. Jacobson recommended the Governing Board advertise the position in three places, in addition to the McPherson & Jacobson website:

  • American Association of School Administrators website for 60 days: $649
  • EdWeek for 30 day: $495
  • Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators: $150 flat rate

The suggested advertising was approved by the Governing Board 5-0.

(file photo)

Stakeholder input and community involvement

A large component of McPherson & Jacobson’s proposal included stakeholder input and community involvement, ranging from students to local organizations.

“Our goal is we don’t want anyone in your community to say they didn’t have an opportunity to provide input,” Mr. Jacobson said. “I would recommend, at a minimum, one community forum. With a district your size, I’d recommend two or three.”

There are four questions that will be asked to all stakeholder groups, and put in to an online survey.

The responses heard from these four questions are compiled in to a report for the board members.

The Governing Board members identified the Scottsdale Charros, Business United for Scottsdale Schools, city of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, Scottsdale Community College and Arizona State University as potential groups to include. Additionally, the board members suggested having meetings in each of the district’s five learning communities.

Mr. Jacobson recommended having a daytime meeting and evening meeting in each of the five communities.

Pam Kirby

“The last time we held facility meetings at each learning community… how do you handle when the same few vocal people show up at every meeting and control and dominate the dialogue you’re trying to have with the constituent group?” Ms. Kirby asked Mr. Jacobson of hosting learning community meetings.

Mr. Jacobson says the consultants who will be running the meetings are all superintendents, who have “dealt with vocal people before.”

“I want you to hear from everyone, it’s my experience the same few people — over time it’s gotten worse — they show up and dominate every dialogue. So the rest of the community is never heard,” Ms. Kirby explained.

Mr. Jacobson assured her his group is good at orchestrating the community and reaching everyone. Additionally, he asked the board members to give him names of individuals in the community to be sure to reach.

“Is it unrealistic to hope to sit down with each of our principals?” Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg asked.

Mr. Jacobson answered the additional time and expenses to do so wasn’t budgeted in their proposal; while Dr. Kriekard suggested hosting principal meetings in each learning community.

The Governing Board hosted its Sept. 25 meeting at the Mohave District Annex. (file photo)

Free and open dialogue

The week of Oct. 22 is the proposed week for stakeholder groups, and Mr. Jacobson recommended the Governing Board not attend.

“Our recommendation is that you not attend. You certainly can, because it’s your search, but people are a little bit more open with us when board members aren’t in the room,” he said.

The application process will close at the end of November, so that McPherson & Jacobson has time to read each one and begin compiling a short list to present to the Governing Board.

“We need a minimum of two weeks between closing and presenting to you,” Mr. Jacobson said. “I saw that you already had a work session on the 10th — we need about three hours for this, I don’t want you to feel rushed.”

Ultimately, three Governing Board meetings are suggested. The first was the Sept. 25 meeting. The next one is to include reviewing stakeholder input summary and determining interview questions, contract details and interview schedule.

The third board meeting will include reviewing the list of applicants, selection of finalists, and coordinating interviews.

The interviews, Mr. Jacobson says, will be over one week — with one candidate per day. The candidate’s spouse is to be included in their touring of the district as well.

“We start off with a quick tour of the community or two, candidate will go meet with stakeholder groups again, teachers, students, principals and community groups for 45 minutes to an hour to ask questions,” Mr. Jacobson explained. “Then typically an informal interview around a meal with the board, an evening meal … then go to the formal interview.”

Mr. Jacobson says the informal dinner interview allows the candidate to tell the Governing Board about themselves.

“Candidates understand this is part of the process. They’re being interviewed socially, and you want to see your candidate in a social setting,” he said.

“It’s also our opportunity where they can share information with you that you can’t ask them, so I’ll be telling you about my four sons, three grandkids — things you can’t ask me but I want you to know about me.”

A Governing Board executive session meeting is generally scheduled at this time, the recruiter said, to determine if there is a winning candidate or if the search needs to continue.

“You’re a very attractive school district,” Mr. Jacobson said. “You’re going to get a deep and rich pool — I think you’re going to find the right one.”

The end portion of the meeting had the Governing Board identify the most important characteristics and qualities of their next superintendent. Some suggested areas were: student focused, data savvy, business minded, ethical, innovative and excellent communicator.

The RFQ issued by SUSD’s purchase department is not to exceed $100,000. Of McPherson & Jacobson’s proposal, fees and/or expenses can increase from the submitted $36,900 if:

  • The board chooses advertising media over $2,000;
  • The board requests more than three days of stakeholder input sessions;
  • The board requests more than five shortlist candidate videos;
  • The board requests consultants be present at meetings not included;
  • Actual travel costs increase due to changing prices.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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