Videoconferencing and voice mail transform superintendent recruitment (almost): Although a high-profile search in Dallas fizzled, real-time video interviews are improving searches

Executive recruiters–such as the ones conducting superintendent searches in Dallas and Washington state–are turning to technology to identify and screen prospective K-12 job candidates, and this gives school leaders yet one more reason to get savvy about technology.

Late in February, the Dallas school board deadlocked over which of two finalists to choose as its new superintendent. The result: the search had to be reopened.

The stalemate showed that technology–no matter how advanced–can take things only so far. But before the search foundered, it drew national attention to something fresh in superintendent recruitment: videoconferencing to give school boards and remote superintendent candidates a discreet way to look each other over.

The Dallas search highlighted the use of videoconferencing, but the search now under way in the Peninsula School District of Gig Harbor, Wash., suggests the broad range of technology now being deployed by executive search consultants.

Using existing and emerging technology solutions can save schools money and broaden search possibilities, according to Lee Pasquarella, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based Cascade Consulting Group. Pasquarella specializes in matching districts and candidates using a variety of voice, video, and data technologies.

With so many districts looking for new leaders–nearly 200 in Texas alone, including El Paso, Austin, and San Antonio–schools are increasingly turning to cheaper, easier technology solutions, Pasquarella said.

Digital match-making

The Peninsula School District recently hired Pasquarella to help them find the right leader.

In addition to holding more traditional public meetings to discuss the superintendent search, Pasquarella said he will be using a telephone-based service devised by his company to assess the needs of the district and make a “computerized” match with possible candidates.

The survey will be completed by school employees to help Pasquarella understand what kind of a district he’s working with. Like people, Pasquarella said, every school district has its own distinct “personality” or “culture.”

Over the next few days, Peninsula staff members will call an 800 number and use the keypad of their phones to answer a series of 36 pre-recorded questions about the district. Respondents will be asked if the district is willing to accept new ideas, how it receives information, and what kind of information it accepts.

The phone survey will generate data that are compiled into an “Organizational Characteristic Index,” which Pasquarella then compares with data on possible candidates.

The search will later employ other technologies, such as voice mail and eMail, to allow community members to weigh in with their opinions. The information will be made available on the school’s web site.

“The reason this works is because we’re using technology to make it happen,” Pasquarella said. The system gives board members much more information than they’ve been able to collect in the past, he added, with a one-day turn-around time.

Dallas Public Schools

In Dallas, the five final candidates for the top job went through a videoconferencing interview. The interviews were conducted in a closed session and lasted about two hours each. Videoconferencing was used, search consultant Bill Attea told the Fort Worth Star Telegram, to protect the confidentiality of the candidates.

A spokesman for the district, John Dahlander, told the Star Telegram that the videoconferencing cost about $3,700. Board members and candidates exchanged questions and answers, watching each other on 35-inch TV monitors.

But the interviews didn’t go without a hitch. Lost connections and overbooking of the videoconferencing equipment within one district delayed two interviews.

In the end, none of the candidates were selected for the position, and Dallas is back to the drawing board, with some Texas lawmakers calling for a state takeover of the district.

Calling Dallas school board members “a bunch of kindergarten adults,” one state legislator said the trustees’ decision in early March to restart their superintendent search shows the district is in dire shape, and education experts say launching a new search will make matters worse.

Gov. George W. Bush challenged the city’s business leaders to help fix the district, and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk suggested that school board members should consider resigning.

School board President Hollis Brashear said the district needs no state monitoring. He argued the board has dealt with complex issues over the past year.

“Like any deliberative body, we have had our share of differences, but we all remain sincere in our efforts to improve the district,” Brashear said. “Our decision to extend the superintendent search should indicate our collective willingness to find the right person to lead Dallas Public Schools into the next millennium.”

Several state leaders aren’t convinced. Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, is rallying a multiracial group of local lawmakers to pressure the Texas Education Agency to act quickly.

“When should they do it? Yesterday,” Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, told the Dallas Morning News. “I support a hostile takeover.”

State Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, spoke even more harshly: “We’ve got a bunch of kindergarten adults running a school board,” she said. “I think all of them should be removed.”

State Education Commissioner Mike Moses “will consider what legislators say,” spokeswoman Debbie Graves-Ratcliffe said. “We’re closely watching the situation, but we’re not planning to send in a monitor.”

Trustees voted 8-1 to restart their search when it was clear the board was divided over two finalists–James Williams of Dayton, Ohio, and Anthony Trujillo of El Paso. Williams withdrew from the race the next day.

Dallas Public Schools

Peninsula School District

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