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July 26, 2004

DISD: don’t copy top-cop search
Hunt for Moses successor must be targeted, proactive — and confidential

By Randall Neal and Jim Leverette

In order for the Dallas Independent School District to be successful in its search for a new superintendent replacing Dr. Mike Moses, the process must be very different from the one used in the recent search for Dallas’ new police chief.

If not, failure is a real possibility — and the outcome could negatively affect the lives of thousands of school-age children attending Dallas public schools.

As experts with a national executive search firm, we’re hired by companies to conduct exclusive searches to find and attract top executives. Having worked with clients ranging from General Motors and American Airlines to Perot Systems, we believe our knowledge and experience in the search process speaks for itself, and we’ve been very successful in attracting and recruiting leaders to run multimillion-dollar organizations. DISD would certainly fall into this category, as the school district has a larger budget than many Fortune 500 companies.

Most importantly, the DISD superintendent’s role is not for an individual seeking on-the-job training. DISD must find a candidate that possesses the “been-there, done-that” experience associated with running large-scale school districts.

The chosen candidate’s résumé must exhibit a successful track record of handling complex issues and improving critical standards in the areas of academic performance, public image, school safety, finances and facilities, to name a few.

Clearly, failure involving this critical hire is not an option for DISD.

What this means for DISD is that there will be a very short list of qualified candidates from which to choose. And, unfortunately, a number of these desired candidates will not be interested in the DISD position for a variety of reasons. Therefore, the search firm and/or search committee must be prepared with a well thought-out and targeted, proactive recruiting campaign.

Initially, you must approach all qualified candidates in a very professional manner using discretion and caution. Next, you must be able to “sell” the opportunity to the most competent individuals, showing them why it will be a win-win situation for them as well as DISD.

This means not waiting for individuals to apply for the position, or running ads in education-oriented magazines or on Web sites. In all likelihood, this type of advertising will never attract a pool of high-quality candidates for the DISD superintendent position. The best and brightest candidates will most likely be those who are uncovered through planned strategic research.

The search must be conducted utilizing a confidential process. Top candidates will not engage in serious dialogue if they think their names are going to appear in the newspaper the next day. Under no circumstances would they allow this information to be made public until the end of the search process, as this type of disclosure could jeopardize their position with their current employer.

Unfortunately, the city’s recent police chief search appeared to be an open-book search, and undoubtedly scared away many top candidates. DISD’s search committee will need to understand the needs and challenges of this critical role.

Furthermore, the committee must be able to assess — possibly with professional assistance — not only the skills and talents of the candidates, but also their “cultural fit” and physiological makeup. Finally, the search group must be comprised of people who can be trusted to keep the process “secret,” while always representing the key interests of the Dallas community.

Apparently, the Dallas superintendent’s position became too demanding for Dr. Moses. DISD may need to consider the possibility of bringing in additional talent to support its next superintendent — much like a large corporation that will often employ a CEO, a president/COO and several senior VPs.  

Neal and Leverette are senior partners at Randall James Monroe Inc., a Dallas-based global executive-search consultancy.