Behind the Process of the Superintendent Search

Daniel Chertow, Business Editor

On February 19th, the new District 113 superintendent was announced, and it is especially important to question how exactly how the search of selecting the new district leader was concluded. Within the last few years, the district has undergone rapid adjustments with its superintendents. Throughout this process of change, many wonder when we will have stable leadership within our district and in our community. To further understand this complex process, Dr. Linda Yonke, one of the interim superintendents, offered her opinions.

Finding a new superintendent started with a process of vetting 40 applicants until members of the district finally dwindled this number down to three experienced candidates. Those three then went through an extensive interview process conducted by the Board of Education, as well as student and parent panels who offered their experiences and opinions on what the community was looking for. The panels offered their opinions on the problems within the district and produced a list of questions to ask the three prospective superintendents. All of the superintendents were asked the same questions to see how they responded to the issues. The final three candidates were held to very high standards, with Dr. Yonke noting, “The candidates that we have are [expected to have done] research and in the interview process they are finding out about us.” The process of deciding on a new superintendent is not random. It is based on 11 main points outlined in the Superintendent Profile, a rubric describing what the new superintendent should be like. In order to be qualified to be a superintendent for District 113, one must, for example, “be a skillful communicator who is warm while also being smart with finances and holding others accountable for their work.” The parents and students searched for these qualities during the interview process when deciding who the new superintendent would be.

With superintendents in the past, one of the central problems surrounding the position was the lack of communication between staff and administrators. At board meetings last spring, before the departure of Dr. Dignam, this problem was discussed at length by staff and community members. While this may not be the only reason for the continuous turnover of many administrators, the district-wide lack of connection between what the staff desired and what the administration delivered drove a wedge between the two groups. The ultimate goal of this search and interview process was to find someone who will connect with District 113 through fortifying strong relationships with staff. Dr. Yonke acknowledged the importance of this, stating, “There have been some issues with climate which really comes down to relationships between administration and teachers, administration and community, administration and board.”

One of the characteristics that the Superintendent Profile emphasizes is a person who is a “genuine, authentic, warm, and caring person who is approachable and can develop trust throughout the district.” The extensive interview process uses perspectives from the past and goals for the future so that the new superintendent will have qualities to bring unity into the district.

While it is imperative that the new superintendent be effective with communicating with many different departments—yet alone two separate high schools—the goal for the superintendent who leads District 113 is to be very familiar with the type of students that attend a school in District 113. Dr. Yonke stated that, “We are a high achieving district with a very supportive community, supportive of education,” and so it is essential that the superintendent directs with this mission in mind. And since maximizing learning is central to District 113, the hope is the new superintendent will look for ways to improve the classroom.

So many changes in leadership can cause people to be wary of what is happening at an administrative level. This can create an uneasy atmosphere for anyone involved within the district, causing problems with to the administrators for guidance. Dr. Yonke stated that she hopes “that the district gains a superintendent who is highly skilled, is experienced as a superintendent, and someone who will stay here for a long time.” The Superintendent Profile addressed this by stating that the superintendent should be “an experienced, quality educational leader with a proven track record of success in curriculum, instruction, and equity initiatives.” The District 113 community certainly hopes that this transparent and collaborative search process will build trust between those in the district and the new leader.

With many unanswered questions about the direction this new leader will take District 113 in, one aspect remains certain: the new hire will be entering our district with a vast knowledge of the community and will be able to take on challenges in our schools now and in the future. Ultimately, Dr. Yonke exclaimed that, “the new superintendent will take time to develop positive relationships with all different people and to listen to what the community needs and wants.” With so much work being put into the process of finding a new superintendent, the Board of Education is confident that the new leader aligns well with the District’s core beliefs.