Groups lobby for open Durham superintendent search

Mar. 12, 2014 @ 07:22 PM

Two community groups are calling on the Durham Public Schools Board of Education to conduct an open search process for the next superintendent.

The People’s Alliance (PA), a liberal-leaning political action committee, has asked the board to make public the names of everyone who interviews for the job.

“We believe that the names of those being interviewed should be made public,” the PA said in a letter to the school board, adding that it believes search process for teachers through superintendent should be open. 

Meanwhile, the Durham Council of PTAs, an umbrella organization for all school district PTAs, wants the board to make finalists' names public.

“We would like to see a public finalist forum,” the Council of PTAs’ letter said. “We see this as a concrete way to create a sense of community engagement.”

Both letters were signed by Ann Rebeck, president of the Durham Council of PTAs and a co-chair of the PA’s education team. The PA’s Education Team’s other co-chair, Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, also signed the PA’s letter.

While the board has discussed the pros and cons of an open process, its members appear undecided about the best course to pursue.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said the residents that she has heard from are evenly divided over whether to open the search process.

“We’ll be wrestling with that,” Carter said.

School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said the board ultimately will decide whether the search is open or closed.

“We will also factor in what the community wants,” Forte-Brown said.

Opening the process could discourage outstanding candidates from applying for fear of alienating boards in districts that they currently lead.

The North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA), one of the firms that submitted a proposal to conduct Durham’s search, also cautioned that an open process could cost Durham good candidates.

“In our experience, open searches tend to reduce the total number and quality of applications, especially with sitting superintendents who may not want their current board to know they are looking for another position,” the NCSBA wrote in its proposal. “Whether your board decides to conduct an open or closed search, our search team will proceed as directed.”

Forte-Brown serves on the NCSBA’s board of directors.

School board member Natalie Beyer said she can see the benefits of both search types.

Beyer said the board could potentially develop a hybrid process, in which portions of the search would be closed and others open.

“I think the board’s goal is to make sure we have the highest caliber of applicant pool to select from,” Beyer said.

The school board has invited four of the five search firms to town next week to make presentations and to be interviewed by the board.

Carter said the board will wait until a search firm is selected before deciding whether to conduct an open or closed search.

Either way, Carter said, the board is committed to ensuring the community has input.

“We will at least get as much community involvement as we did last time,” Carter said.

Most recently, the Wake County School Board conducted an open process using the Nebraska-based search firm of McPherson & Jacobson.

The firm is one of the four the Durham school board will interview next week.