The superintendent search from a PR perspective (part 7)

The last public relations activities in hiring a school superintendent are announcing the results and filing the paperwork.

7. Explain your choice to stakeholders

After the school board has made its selection and the successful candidate has accepted the job offer, the board needs to explain the reasons for its choice.Failure to give reasons for choosing the successful candidate over other applicants makes the public wonder if the school board simply picked a name from a hat.

The explanation need not be lengthy, but should mention assets the candidate brings to the school. That may be experience with particular problems, such as managing a building program; personal qualities (particularly if the person who is leaving lacked them); prior knowledge of the district or readiness to move to the district.

After one superintendent search on which I served, most of the committee members turned out at the board meeting to hear why a particular candidate was chosen.  The board president gave no reason for choosing that candidate. My committee had found no reason to hire him either, but that didn’t increase our respect for the school board.

One hopes the board’s rationale should tally with the position description and also reflect the preferences of the stakeholder groups. However, the school board is not only allowed but obligated to make its own choice if its investigation reveals information that renders a particular candidate unsuitable for the job.

If a candidate who was the overwhelming choice of stakeholder groups is found to have what politicians might call “enhanced credentials,” for public relations reasons the board needs to prepare bland explanation why that person was not chosen, such as “an anomaly was noticed when checking references that made us question the candidate’s ability to work here successfully.” With some planning and a little luck, it should not be necessary to make the statement publicly.

The school board could assign a member to speak privately to an individual on each of the interview committees that supported the favored candidate who was not chosen. By keeping the comment out of the board meeting and phrasing it as an appreciation for the committee’s work and respect for their opinions, it should be possible to minimize any negative feelings toward the board without revealing an issue relative to someone who isn’t a school employee.

8. Archive the paperwork

If the school board has exercised due diligence and the candidate who is hired does a reasonably good job, there will probably never be a question about whether the process was done well.

If something goes wrong, having retrievable documentation showing what was done is insurance against a public relations tornado.

Put the paperwork away where it can be retrieved but not easily found; scanning it as PDFs stored in a zipped file, for example, would make it retrievable for the foreseeable future but not easily found.

Earlier posts in this series:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Identify stakeholders
  • Part 3: Set stage for stakeholder participation
  • Part 4:  Prepare the invitation to apply and  give potential interviewers resources
  • Part 5:  Keep good interview records
  • Part 6:  Check references following interviews