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Search firm urges LAUSD board reach unity on next superintendent

Mike Szymanski | November 10, 2015

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superintendent search

In presenting a detailed accounting of community input for LA Unified’s superintendent search, the president of the search firm urged the seven board members to reach consensus on what they are looking for in their ideal candidate.

“You do not want to make this decision on four votes,” said Hank Gmitro of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. “You want to all agree.”

After the presentation, Gmitro told LA School Report it’s not unheard of for a school board—even one with such diversity as LAUSD’s—to agree on a single candidate. “It happens most of the time that the whole board agrees on one person,” Gmitro said.

After Gmitro and members of his team reviewed overall results of two weeks of 9,400 surveys and 120 community meetings, board President Steve Zimmer asked how the firm could possibly come up with candidates that have a proven track record on two strong, but nebulous characteristics that arose time and again from many participating in the feedback process: “equity” and “building trust.”

Gmitro said it’s a matter of “our vetting and your interviews and the kinds of actions they took and the results they achieved.”

By their questions to Gmitro and his team, the board members seem to be laying groundwork for finding a superintendent comfortable with fulfilling the priorities of the board, rather than bringing “an agenda” or “ego” to the position, a not-so-veiled reference to past superintendents.

“They want a humble person,” said Darline Robles, a member of the search team who summed up the characteristics that emerged from community forums. “Not someone who comes in whose ego is the forefront.”

But already, there were early signs of potential friction. In a discussion of what documents the board to consider in refining a list of preferred characteristics, Mónica Ratliff suggested they disregard a generic list provided by the search firm for general guidance and stick with the survey results. George McKenna disagreed, saying some of the firm’s suggestions might prove valuable and should be included.

As a sign of the possibility of more friction ahead, Mónica Garcia looked at the camera that was broadcasting the meeting live and said, “I hope that the potential candidates are watching this.”

The board agreed to meet in closed session at 1 p.m. next Tuesday for what Gmitro described as “a starting point for your discussion.” Already resumes have been submitted, but the firm assured the board that it would not seek potential candidates until the profile is completed.

Among the major preferred characteristics that arose from the community meetings, people said they wanted a superintendent who, among other things, is committed to a long term, does not come in with an attitude of “you are broken and I want to fix it,” can collaborate with different stakeholders, has an urgency to meet an equity agenda, has a political acumen and communicates effectively.

Gmitro said the community input went flawlessly, although everyone said they had hoped for more numbers. Of the 120 meetings, 24 were open to anyone, 14 were staff focus groups, 60 were specific focus groups, and 22 were individual interviews with school board members, the mayor of Los Angeles and others identified by the school board to question.

“We have our homework, I want to take this all in,” said board member Richard Vladovic. “I’m happy with the progress, but not satisfied with the results yet.”

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