Picking the top administrator for a big public agency can involve a delicate balancing act. The candidates you're screening have the right to a certain amount of privacy. But the community has a right to know something about the people being considered for a vital job and the process for considering them.
The Bend-LaPine School Board seems to have pulled off the balancing act pretty well in its search for the next superintendent.
After interviewing seven candidates submitted to them by an executive search firm, the superintendent search committee has narrowed the hunt down to three finalists. They are Bend-LaPine Deputy Superintendent Ron Wilkinson; Ryan Thomas, assistant superintendent of the Uinta County School District in Wyoming, and Stephen Rowley, former superintendent of the Fremont Union High School District in Northern California.
The school board wasn't obliged by law to release the names of the finalists - or to conduct any part of the superintendent search in public, as far as that goes. Oregon's public meetings law allows school boards and other public bodies to discuss personnel matters in executive (closed-door) session.
And according to School Board Chairman Nathan Hovekamp, the executive search firm pressed the board to "keep the process as confidential as possible for as long as possible." The fear was that going public with names would scare off some good candidates, because most of them had jobs and wouldn't want their current employers to find out they were looking for another one.
The superintendent search committee weighed that consideration against the desire for transparency, Hovekamp said, and decided that because "the culture here [in Bend] is to have open processes," it would release the names of the finalists. "We pushed back pretty hard and the consultant was okay with that," Hovekamp said.
Not only have the names of the finalists been released, but members of the public will have the chance to meet them in person from 4 to 6 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at school district headquarters on Wall Street. (Rowley will appear on Wednesday, Wilkinson on Thursday and Thomas on Friday.)
The school board made sure the public got into the process at the front end, too, by holding a series of forums that ultimately produced a 40-plus-page "leadership profile" laying out what the community was looking for in a new superintendent.
Hovekamp said the board thought it was important to involve the public not only for the sake of the general principle of openness, but also because that would yield a better result. "We know we're just seven volunteer yokels on this board, and we're not gonna come out with the best hire unless the community is part of the process," he said.
The final proof of the success of that process will come after the board makes its pick and people have had a chance to see the new superintendent on the job. But so far it looks like those volunteer yokels didn't do half bad - so here's the GLASS SLIPPER, guys.