Schools chief search process not set yet

NASHUA – As it searches for a new leader for the School District, the Board of Education is finding that coming up with a process to pick a new superintendent can be complicated.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, members tried to come to a consensus on a process to use to find a replacement for Superintendent Christopher Hottel, who will leave to become superintendent in North Andover, Mass., in July.

Board member Robert Hallowell came to Monday night’s meeting with an outline of a process he thought the board could use.

His recommendation was for the board to narrow down all of the applications to the 10 best candidates, and than have a 12-member search committee whittle those down to four finalists.

The committee would include three school board members, Associate Superintendent Ed Hendry and eight yet-to-be determined community members. Hendry has already said he is not interested in the position, Hallowell said.

In the proposal, the names of the four finalists would be made public and they would be required to come to the community for public interviews. The board would then decide on a superintendent from the pool of finalists.

While Hallowell’s proposal appeared amenable to most board members, some raised concerns, like how to keep the names of the group of 10 candidates confidential before the finalists were made public.

Board member Steve Haas said that if citizens are given access to the names before the finalist stage, that there is a strong likelihood that someone will end up leaking that information.

“(Those candidates) will have the expectation that the search will be confidential at that point,” Haas said.

Hallowell said he would hope those chosen would understand the sensitivity of the information they are being given and would be able to maintain that confidentiality.

He added that it’s possible to pursue legal advice about whether the board could have members of the search committee sign some type of confidentiality agreement.

“I think there are ways we can handle it,” he said.

Concerns were also raised about what questions members of the search committee could not legally ask the candidates. Hottel said the district’s human resources department could provide guidance in that area.

The board ultimately decided to put off any decisions about the process until its meeting Wednesday, when New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Lyonel Tracy will be in attendance to give the board advice on its search.

Hallowell cautioned that the board couldn’t afford to keep putting off decisions about the search and expect to have someone in place by the time Hottel leaves.

“It’s been two weeks since we’ve started on things and we haven’t really decided on anything,” he said.

Last week, the board voted to conduct the search on its own, instead of hiring a search firm to provide guidance.

It’s unusual for a school board to conduct a superintendent search without the assistance of a search firm. In 2005, the Nashua board hired Illinois-based search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to assist with its search.

The board will have to decide the makeup of the search committee and how those people will be selected.

Monday night, board members talked about what constituencies should be represented.

Board member Sandra Ziehm said she wants to see senior citizens and parents represented on the committee.

Haas said teachers should also be included.

Hottel said in North Andover, there was an opportunity for him and other finalists to meet with principals, teachers and citizens before the school board made a decision.

The board also discussed Monday night how to advertise for the position.

The board decided to have Dana O’Gara, the district’s director of human resources, come up with language for an advertisement, and a list of places to advertise with estimated costs.

Ziehm said the board seems to be in agreement that the advertisement should require some administrative experience and should mention that the district is “in need of improvement.”

Haas said it should also indicate that teaching experience is required. The superintendent will deal with teachers on a regular basis and should have experience in the classroom, he said.

The board has not yet discussed a salary range for the position. Hottel is making $150,000 this year.