February 6, 2017

Nebraska firm picked to look for Burgess’ successor


The Dare County Board of Education will tap a national firm to head up the search for a new superintendent to replace Sue Burgess, who has been at the helm of Dare County Schools since July of 2000.

Burgess announced last month that she would retire at the end of the school year.

After reviewing proposals from six leading superintendent search firms and considering hiring its own attorney, the board voted 6-0 at a special Jan. 31 meeting to enter into a contract with the Omaha, Neb. firm of McPherson & Jacobson, L.L.C.  Board member Margaret Lawler, who favored using the board’s attorney Schwartz & Shaw, abstained from the vote.

The decision to hire a national firm came after board member Ben Sproul seemed to change some of his colleagues’ minds by making the case for using a company that doesn’t know “any of players” and comes “from outside the community and the state.”

“There’s a big talent pool out there,” he asserted. “There are a lot of great minds in other places in the nation.”

The issue of opening up the search to the widest possible range of candidates is a significant one for a school system where 42 of the last 43 administrative hires were the internal candidates.

The board also hammered out a tentative timeline during the meeting held at Manteo Elementary School.  The five-phase search process will include a series of meetings to garner community and staff input and will incorporate extensive, nationwide advertising for the position.  The new superintendent is expected to take over the helm of the school district beginning July 1.

McPherson’s consulting services will cost the district $14,900 plus advertising and other additional expenses. The cost falls right in the middle of the price range proposed by other firms, which spanned from $12,950 to $22,500.

At the start of the meeting, board members appeared to be leaning toward either using their own attorney or the North Carolina School Board Association for the search. But Sproul lobbied for hiring a national firm, noting that an outside company doesn’t have any preconceived notions or biases.

He added that a company such as McPherson & Jacobson, L.L.C. brings a level of expertise to the job as well. “These companies live, eat and breath searching for superintendents. They do it all day, every single day.”

Sproul also said the money the board would have to spend is a drop in the bucket, considering the responsibility the new superintendent would take on.  Echoing Sproul, board member Joe Tauber said that the ultimate goal is to hire the best superintendent. “If that applicant is in California, we need to reach that person.”

Lawler favored staying close to home, adding that Schwartz and Shaw had been with the board since 1992. “They know the area, they know the school and our needs. They have a vested interest in us and offer a personal touch.

At the end of the discussion, board members opted for the outside approach.

According to its proposal, the Omaha firm says more than half the administrators they helped place within the past decade are still in the position they were hired for.  McPherson & Jacobson would also provide a second search – free of charge – if a superintendent were to leave the position within two years.

School Board Attorney Richard Schwartz said the firm would be able to cast a wide net to attract the most qualified applicants from all over the country.

“You have an awful lot to offer here,” Schwartz told the board. “Just look around you. It’s a great place to live, you have a great tax base, a good relationship with the board of commissioners and facilities that have been overhauled – that doesn’t happen every day. You have a terrific situation to sell. If you don’t attract people from all over the country, there’s something wrong in the search process.”

The big difference between a firm like McPherson & Jacobson and the N.C. SBA is that it is more national in scope. “And the track record of McPherson is remarkable,” Schwartz said.

The firm has placed more than 500 superintendents and other officials across the country and in North Carolina, the Wake County Public School system and the Charlotte-Macklenburg Schools hired McPherson to conduct the search for their district superintendents.

The school board is slated to meet with a consultant from McPherson on Feb. 13, which will mark the beginning of a series of events that will ultimately lead to the July 1 start date. Advertising for the position will begin on March 1, which will follow the firm’s consultation with the community, staff and the school board about what qualities stakeholders are looking for in a superintendent.

Three community meetings will be scheduled and held in different parts of the county, including Hatteras, during the month of Feburary.

The deadline for applications is set for April 28, with final interviews being held in late May and an announcement of the new superintendent tentatively scheduled for May 30.

(Reprinted from the Outer Banks Sentinel with permission.  For more Outer Banks news, features, sports, and classifieds, go  to www.obsentinel.com)

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