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Search for new LAUSD leader well underway, open meetings planned

Mike Szymanski | October 1, 2015

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Hank Gmitro at 5.59.30 PM

Hank Gmitro, president of HYA

The search team hired to find a new LA Unified superintendent is already receiving applications and is putting together a list of potential candidates, while arranging to canvass school board members and the community for what they want in the new district boss.

Hank Gmitro, president of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates based in Rosemont, Ill., told LA School Report today that he expects to have candidates for board members to interview by late November or early December. That comports with the schedule of the current Superintendent Ramon Cortines who has expressed a desire to leave by the end of the year.

“We have begin to think about potential candidates, but the first piece is to develop the criteria through the board interviews and the community forums,” Gmitro said.

The firm is continuing its interviews with the seven school board members through next week. Public meetings have been scheduled for the weeks of Oct. 19 and Oct. 26 at all six of the Local Districts, to be followed by additional public meetings at LA Unified’s downtown headquarters. The forums are designed to allow for input by the general public and will include community members and groups that the board members have suggested.

Some of the interviews will be done privately, to include leaders like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Gmitro said.

“Some people have begun to express some interest,” Gmitro said. “We have begun to have had some initial conversations, a couple of people have contacted us, some people have applied since we posted the vacancy last week.”

But first, the search firm is planning to distribute a survey on paper and online, starting as early as next week, listing 20 characteristics of what people may want in a superintendent and asking open-ended questions to “find out what people what to share.” He said It will be available in five languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Armenian.

“The survey is ready to go,” Gmitro said. “It is not just for teachers or parents, but anyone in the community that wants to give input.”

As much as he expects very different input from the diverse school board members, the president of the search firm said he believes it’s a bonding process for the board.

“A big piece of the process is often the whole school board coming together on this issue. They have a lot of discussion and they think about the characteristics of who they’re looking for, and in the process, it’s a bonding experience for school boards,” Gmitro said. “They discuss their hopes and expectations of the school district and what they believe and then move in that direction.”

LAUSD has 643,000 students and is the largest school district in the country with an elected board. Gmitro’s firm has its entire team working full time on this search, he said, adding that most of them, including Gmitro, have been superintendents at school districts. Eight or nine associates will be running the community meetings and collecting input for the board. Then, they will plan meetings for the whole district to be held at district headquarters

“The district-wide meetings downtown will bring in a different crowd from those who might attend one that is held at a local high school,” Gmitro said. “The school board wanted the public to be given as much access as possible.”

Input collected from the community forums, surveys and conversations with board members and civic leaders will be compiled to develop a profile for the ideal LAUSD candidate, Gmitro said. Then, HYA will present the board a slate of candidates to consider.

LAUSD currently has the largest percentage of charter schools than any major school district, and Gmitro said that issue does often come up: “Those are questions that get sorted out with the community meeting process. What are people thinking about? Do they want competitive charter schools, supportive charter schools, non-traditional educators or someone who has come up through the ranks with teaching and principal experience? We will get a sense of what the community thinks about those issues.”

The HYA team also believes that the best candidates will come during a more confidential search process.

“The community has elected the school board to represent them to make this decision, people need to remember that,” Gmitro pointed out. “The reality is that if I’m good at my job and I’m happy at my current job, am I going to put that at risk and take my chances to make my candidacy public? If I’m not happy at my job or if the board is looking to fire me I probably don’t care, but if I’m good at my job and I am respected in the community I’m working in and have relationships with my board–and those are often factors that a new board is seeking–am I willing to put all of that at risk with the possibility of a new job, and putting my current position at risk?”

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