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
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
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
“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.
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