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LA Unified board picks Hazard Young to find next superintendent

Mike Szymanski | September 2, 2015

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William Attea, Joseph M. Farley and Darline Robles of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates

The LA Unified school board yesterday picked the search firm to find the district’s next superintendent, completing a relatively speedy process that suggests the members want a successor in place when Ramon Cortines steps down in December.

The search process began Sunday, when the board narrowed the field to two head-hunter firms from five and was completed last night following a long day of meetings, in public and private.

After some discussion and a decision not to delay the actual selection, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont, Ill. prevailed in a unanimous vote over Leadership Associates of La Quinta, Calif. Hazard Young projected the highest cost, $160,000, of any of the five firms bidding, but its executives promised that they would deliver a choice of candidates “who meet your criteria” for the job.

“This is singularly the most important search in our nation,” school board president Steve Zimmer said before inviting the two firms to address the board, one after the other. “This is the most important job in public education in our nation.”

Among the key factors that seemed to sway the vote for Hazard Young were these:

  • Hazard Young described having a more national reach, with associates across the country helping the firm place 44 superintendents in the 100 nation’s largest schools districts. As a California-based company, Leadership Associates has more experience in the state.
  • In urging the board to find common ground on the kind of superintendents desired, William Attea, one of Hazard Young’s founding partners, recommended “go back to (considerations of) the kids whenever you have a disagreement.”
  • Hazard Young described a candidate identifying process as one that would be as transparent as possible but not with regard to naming specific candidates. “For the best candidates,” Attea said, “confidentiality always trumps.”

In deliberations before the vote, which was called by Mónica Garcīa, Richard Vladovic expressed a strong preference for Leadership Associates for knowing and having worked with many of its executives.

“They have good people,” he said. “I’m high on them.” He also said he was alarmed by the recent search for a superintendent in Boston, which was handled by Hazard Young and led to the hiring of Tommy Chang, a former LAUSD deputy superintendent. Vladovic said he was concerned about media leaks and “the turmoil the town went through,” but conceded that it might not have been the search firm’s fault.

At the call for votes, Vladovic asked to go last, and with the votes at 6-0, he appeared to agonize before raising his hand, making it unanimous.

Attea told the board members that of the 30 different searches, about five of them had the confidentiality broken at some point by leaks. He also said that one out of six or seven will hire some insider candidate from within their own district.

Scott Schmerelson, a new board member, was unequivocal in telling both firms that he could not vote for a candidate from the Broad Academy, an organization funded by philanthropist and education reformer Eli Broad. He told the Hazard Young team, “I do not want someone who is loyal to an agency for the privatization of schools as part of their plan. I’m pretty close to saying that I cannot vote for someone if they went to Broad, or part of that ilk.”

Both firms responded by telling him that it’s the board’s responsibility to define the characteristics the members want in the next superintendent.

Some board members said they were familiar with Hazard Young’s Darline Robles, who was the superintendent of Montebello schools. Zimmer asked if her involvement with many local institutions would be an issue. “You will be hiring me,” she said, adding that her associations with other districts would not play a part in any decisions.

Although he did not sit in during the interviews of the head-hunting firms, Cortines said he was happy that the process was in place and his replacement could be named “by the beginning of December.”


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