At last night's called meeting of the Dallas Independent School District's board of trustees, representatives from PROACT Search, the matchmaking firm hired to help select a superintendent for the district, chatted casually with board members about the qualities they desire in a candidate.
"I think there is a perfect superintendent for DISD," trustee Eric Cowan said, sounding vaguely like a Bachelor contestant.
Jim Huge, chief strategy officer of PROACT, assured the board that "the challenges that Dallas faces and the community and board will be attractive to candidates." The problems and challenges faced by DISD are manageable compared to many other districts, he insisted.
Since September, when PROACT was selected to lead the search, the company has received calls for the position "every day, non-stop, every day," CEO Gary Solomon said. Huge and Soloman attended last night's meeting to get a sense of what trustees are looking for in a new superintendent. Within the next couple weeks, they will also meet one-on-one with each trustee.
"I would like to see a person that is an effective communicator," said trustee Bernadette Nutall. "If you have an effective communicator, you can agree to disagree."
Mike Morath added that he'd like to see a record of "organizational transformation," and someone who is willing to commit for five years. He suggested they structure the contract to promote such a commitment.
Nancy Bingham stressed the importance of a "sense of urgency." As in: "Too often we get stuck in a rut," she said. She would like to see someone willing to try non-traditional educational methods. "It doesn't matter to me if the person is black, white brown," she said, before jokingly adding, "I would like them to be a female."
Cowan said a "gut feeling" will figure into the process. "I'm also not looking for Superman, because I don't think he exists," he said.
"It's going to be even easier to sell DISD after having this conversation," Huge of PROACT said, nodding and smiling as he listened to trustees' suggestions.
"I'd like world peace," Bruce Parrott added, verbally nudging at the idealistic pageantry. Then, he got serious. "The bottom line is to educate these children and to make them successful." To that end, he would like to see someone who's not in in for the money and who's "here for the right reasons."
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Board president Lew Blackburn stressed the importance of a collaborative superintendent. "I'm looking for somebody who's gonna come in and turn this big ship around," he said. Five years from now, "100 percent of students should be doing a whole lot better."
That turnaround needs to be one of an entire culture, several trustees said. "I do know that teachers are afraid to speak out about certain positions," Parrott said.
"We're trying to change the culture," Blackburn said. "Bruce is right. A lot of people are afraid to speak. ... We need someone that's gonna tell us the bad news."
PROACT is accepting and vetting applications and is tentatively scheduled to give the board a list of seven to 12 candidates during the last week of February. Then, the board will greenlight three candidates, before selecting the perfect match. The process schedule and protocol will be public knowledge, but trustees said the applicants' names will not be revealed until the final candidate is selected.