School board takes next step for superintendent search

by Mick Rhodes |

Online dating involves listing one’s wants, desires and deal-breakers in a potential partner, and then turning over that inventory to someone who works their magic—or their algorithm—to shake the proverbial tree. Or so I’ve heard.

Hunting for a match at the top level of public education administration mirrors this concept: paying someone to minimize risk of exposure, financially and emotionally, when bringing someone new into your life.

Consider Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education as having taken that bold first step.

The board met over Zoom on Thursday with its newly hired executive search firm, Educational Support Services Group, and described what it was looking for in a superintendent.

Considering the tenor of public discourse these days, it’s not surprising the board went on record in its support of opening up the position to someone who did not necessarily look like its members, or someone whose route to the job didn’t follow familiar guideposts. 

“I would love to see diverse candidates,” said board president Nancy Treser Osgood. “I would like to have candidates that would represent diversity in all its forms. I don’t want it just to be ethnic diversity, although that’s important of course. I think it’s important to have diverse genders, and backgrounds in terms of their own educational experiences.

“I don’t want to discount someone who’s a product of public education, or someone on the basis of socio-economic background or gender identity. I think it would be a shame if we didn’t somehow make the pathway clear to people of diverse backgrounds that they would be welcome to apply. It would be a shame if we only have white men finalists. My hope would be that we could expand that pool beyond that.”

Board member Dave Nemer expanded on Ms. Treser Osgood’s remarks.

“A related concern is professional experience with diversity, and sometimes I think there’s an impression that Claremont is an all-white district,” Mr. Nemer said. “But in fact now student enrollment is about 40 percent white [that number is actually closer to 32 percent]. So I do worry about that in terms of applicants thinking they would be taking a job in an all-white district. There is diversity in Claremont. Aside from the applicants  themselves, I think their experience with diversity really matters.”

The district’s freshly departed former superintendent, Jim Elsasser was again held up as an ideal  in several categories. Among them, his commitment to working directly with the people of Claremont, parents, students, business organizations and clubs.

“I would love to see candidates with a demonstrated commitment to community engagement,” said board member Bob Fass. “I think that’s going to very, very important to this community. And that’s something that Dr. Elsasser was very good at. Engagement with the various service groups, the business groups and the like, all of those tentacles that get into our community is very important.”

A point of interest: the district foots the bill for its superintendents dues in one local service group—Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, or chamber of commerce for example—but it’s that person’s choice which one works best for him or her.

The board also addressed the issue of experience. The consensus was it would prefer someone with experience as a teacher and a principal, as well as top level administration.

“I would have that preference for a district this size,” Mr. Nemer said. “The superintendent in this district gets real involved with parents and everybody on a one-to-one basis. Jim Elsasser would always say, ‘Tell them to call me.’ I would see [classroom and principal experience] as definitely a plus, but not necessarily a deal breaker if they don’t.

Ms. Treser Osgood agreed an ideal candidate would have had spent some time in the classroom and in managing an individual school site.

“I really like the idea of someone that has been in the classroom, and maybe has been a principal, and been assistant superintendent and then a superintendent. I would welcome someone who brings that depth of experience across those various levels.”

Mr. Nemer said he’d like to see someone with at least five years’ experience in several senior cabinet positions, though someone who had been a superintendent for less time would be acceptable.

“I guess I would think the more positions the better because they would have had experiences in more aspects of the whole picture,” Mr. Nemer said.

The board spent considerable time talking about how Claremont Unified is perceived versus what’s actually happening with its demographics. The mood seemed to be that it might be a good time to bring in someone who might better represent that diversity.

“People have echoed it and it’s tossing around in my head: I would like to see someone who has a very good understanding what kind of community this is,” said board member Kathy Archer. “Yes, were the city of trees and PhDs, but we’re also community of immigrants. Our community has a very diverse representation socio-economically, with multi-million dollar homes up on the hill, and that demographic changes as you go throughout Claremont. That new superintendent has to have a very keen understanding of this community, who lives here and how things happen.”



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