The Columbia School Board hired the Illinois Association of School Boards to assist in a search for its next superintendent, with one caveat.
This marked the first tangible step the board has taken to replace current superintendent Gina Segobiano, who plans to retire at the end of this school year.
Before hiring IASB, former Waterloo school superintendent Jim Helton, who is now an IASB executive search consultant, explained the search process to the board.
“We have a very high retention rate, and we believe that retention rate comes from the process that we have,” Helton said. “It’s very extensive.”
The first step in that process is developing a timeline and announcement of criteria and salary with the district.
To help with that, IASB will asses what the district wants in a superintendent by sending a survey on desired leadership qualities to stakeholders like the board, district, staff, parents and community members.
The board also elected for IASB to conduct optional focus groups with stakeholders on what makes the district unique, its strengths and weaknesses and what those stakeholders are looking for in a superintendent.
IASB will then present that data to the school board, create the necessary documents and advertise the position.
IASB will collect all applications and confidentially verify the applicants’ qualifications, licensure and such.
A committee made up of consultants like Helton will screen all applicants and develop a list of recommended candidates based on the aforementioned data. The committee typically recommends six candidates.
Next, the board will conduct interviews with those people, a process IASB can assist with.
The board will then narrow the field down to, usually, three finalists, again with optional help from IASB.
The district’s attorney and the selected candidate will next negotiate a contract, after which IASB will work with the board and new superintendent to ensure their goals are aligned.
“I think that’s very valuable – getting everybody on the same page, talking about goals and talking about evaluations,” Helton noted.
IASB also provides a guarantee that if the new superintendent does not match the district, it will redo the search for free.
The board spent $10,900 for those services, including optional ones Helton recommended like the focus group element.
The only condition the board insisted on was that Helton not lead the search or be on the committee.
That position was first brought up by Lisa Schumacher, who said she knew people who “were not fond” of Helton as Waterloo’s superintendent and that Segobiano and Helton worked together at times.
“I think we need someone who is neutral to our situation and who does not have a relationship with our current administration,” she said. “We need someone who is totally independent and transparent.”
Board members Tammy Hines and Greg Meyer agreed with Schumacher, with Meyer originally suggesting the board consider using a private firm instead of only considering IASB.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to get away from the good old boys network,” Hines said. “I think it could be a fresh start.”
Meyer seconded that sentiment, saying residents tell him the district is “under a cloud of an inner circle.”
“If we can get out of that inner circle a little bit and get an impartial person, I would prefer that,” Meyer said.
Board member Karen Anderson pushed back against those ideas, pointing out Helton’s role would not be an unchecked one.
“Jim would just be a facilitator in the process,” she said. “As he stated, this is not his choice. This is our choice.”
Anderson went a step further by arguing to keep Helton because she wanted the district to get back to “where we were.”
“I think somebody that knows us and knows what we were when we were a strong board can help us,” she said.
For his part, Helton sat politely in the audience during the discussion and assured the board IASB could still provide its services without a fee increase if it did not want him on the project.
“If the board would choose to have a different lead consultant, that is not a problem,” he said.
The board unanimously voted to do just that.
In other news from the meeting, Segobiano told the board the bleachers at the turf multi-purpose field at Columbia High School should be done this week.