School-chief search shifts to high gear

But finalists won't be chosen, made public until mid-February

38 have applied for post

Board of Education to select replacement for retiring Hickey

January 06, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The search for the next Howard County superintendent of schools is kicking into high gear this month, but the public won't hear a word about candidates until sometime in February.

Board of Education member Stephen C. Bounds told reporters yesterday that to attract the best applicants, names will not be released until the pool has been narrowed to two or three.

The five school board members make the final selection and hope to have those two or three identified by mid-February. The board hired the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates last February to locate potential candidates.

Bounds, who is the board's spokesman in the candidate search, said consultants from the search firm said more than 60 people have applied for, been nominated for or expressed interest in the job.

Thirty-eight of them are formal applicants.

Bounds said the applicants come from 20 states and Canada. Twenty-eight are male, 10 are female and 29 have doctorates.

"They've told us that the quality [of candidates] is excellent but nothing more specific than that," Bounds said. "We have not seen a single application."

Bounds said the search firm advised the board against opening the search to the public before it has reached the finalist stage, saying that most applicants may not have informed their employers that they're applying for other jobs.

"There are states that have a totally open process, that as soon as you apply it's public, and I am advised that those states have a terrible time getting a decent pool of candidates," Bounds said. "And that is not in the best interest of Howard County or our students."

He said the board doesn't know the names of the 38 people who have applied for the job held by Michael E. Hickey, who retires in June after 16 years.

The search firm has whittled the list to 23 names and has interviewed most of them.

Of those applications, Hazard, Young and Attea will release to the board this month 10 to 12 names and recommend the top five or six whom board members should consider interviewing.

Based on those recommendations, the board will pick its own list of five or six semifinalists. The board plans to interview the semifinalists by the end of this month, Bounds said.

By early next month, the board will have selected two or three finalists. Once the finalists have been notified, the names will become public, Bounds said.

Then each candidate will spend two days in Howard County, meeting administrators, staff, parents and community members.

The first day, he or she will tour schools and meet the community in an evening session at the Board of Education building. The second day, a late afternoon forum will be held for teachers and staff.

"Teachers can come to the public reception, too, and the public can come to the staff reception, if someone has a conflict," Bounds said.

At the close of each forum, participants will be asked to fill out a form, detailing concerns, opinions or questions.

"It's not going to be a popularity contest. The public doesn't get a vote," Bounds said. "But if the public raises some real concerns, we'll certainly take that into serious consideration."

The board hopes to hire the superintendent by the end of next month.

In a brochure inviting people to apply for the position, board members requested a "visionary and proven educational leader," who will make a long-term commitment to the district. Board members have said they are looking for a superintendent who will, in essence, "continue the Howard County tradition of excellence."

Jane B. Schuchardt, the board's vice chairman, said she's looking for a good manager who knows when changes are needed but also realizes that the current system has much to offer.

"I'm not looking for a clean sweep," she said. "We want someone who will come in and carry on the work that's been done."

Said Bounds: "Here, the resources, the staff are set up and already put in place to permit someone to take us to the next level. I do think the real strength of this school system has been its ability to change and adapt."

Board member Karen B. Campbell expects that the candidates recommended by the search firm will have nearly all the attributes the board wants. What the decision will boil down to, she says, is finding the person who fits well with the system and has "an identified passion for kids and public education."

Schuchardt, who says she considers the superintendent choice as important as selecting a spouse, feels "a tremendous weight" on her shoulders as one of the decision-makers. "This is such an important person," she said. "It scares me. I keep thinking, `Will I make the best choice for Howard County?' "

Sun staff writer Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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