West Aurora updated on superintendent search
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media September 17, 2013 5:32PM
West Aurora School District Superintendent James Rydland
Updated: October 19, 2013 7:24PM
The West Aurora School District wants a superintendent with a high level of financial expertise, and experience in a large and diverse school system who will build partnerships.
On Monday, the West Aurora School Board heard the results of an intensive process that involved gathering data from within the district and community through focus groups and public forums to develop a profile for a new superintendent.
Superintendent James Rydland announced over the summer that he would retire from his post in June 2014, with three years left on his contract. Rydland has served as West Aurora’s superintendent since 2005.
School Exec Connect, the consulting firm selected to help the district select a new superintendent, presented their “key findings” covering the strengths and challenges of the district, as well as the attributes desired in the next leader.
Thomas Madden and Sandy Doebert of the Highland Park-based firm said they held 31 meetings.
“We had over 200 face-to-face conversations,” Madden said.
He said an online survey on the district’s website alone generated more than 100 responses.
“We believe that we have a real good accumulation of data to help us,” he told the school board.
Madden said the report was a summary of the “common threads” among the various groups and the skills and attributes they seek in a new superintendent.
The report has been posted on the district’s website for the public’s review.
Board president Neal Ormond thanked all those who participated in the process.
“We appreciate your input, it helps us get a confirmation of what this community is looking for,” Ormond said.
Ormond said in October they will begin to consider potential candidates.
Some of the key findings that emerged as the district’s strengths were the well-rounded and well-supported programs, the move toward professional learning communities for staff and the district’s history of “creating and preserving partnerships” in the community.
Most noteworthy were the partnerships with Aurora University in the STEM initiative and Waubonsee Community College in the dual credit program.
The report further identified the West Aurora School District’s rich culture and tradition, the quality and efforts of staff and their commitment to all students.
Madden said the common threads listed as issues and challenges identified by the various groups included the financial condition of the district and staff turnover from an impending “high number” of retirements, including several of those in leadership positions.
“That next superintendent will be challenged with finding the best replacements for key leaders in the central office,” he said.
Madden said while culture and tradition were mentioned as strengths, they were also cited as challenges, specifically there is an awareness of “how a strong tradition and culture, can at times, slow down and even inhibit an openness to new ideas and progress.”
The consultants said they stressed during the process there are “common attributes” for a district leader, but it was their job to distinguish the important attributes for the success of the next superintendent in the West Aurora School District.
Doebert said they consistently heard the new superintendent should have experience in a district of similar size and diversity, but not only experience with diversity, he or she should embrace diversity for all that it has to offer any community.
She said while visibility, approachability and accessibility are common in superintendent searches, they took on an interesting nuance during their meetings. Doebert said there is an expectation that the superintendent will be very visible in the school buildings and community, as well as a leader on behalf of the district in Springfield.
“What is unique in your situation is the expectation is much greater in the community piece and legislative piece as a function of the type of leader you want,” Doebert said.
It also emerged that the new superintendent needs to be “accomplished” in long-range and comprehensive financial planning and the person will need the level of expertise required to lead the board in the continued auditing of the district’s finances and implementation of plans.
“It is a really big laundry list. It’s not like going on Match.com,” board member Angie Smith said. “It is interesting some of the very things that are strengths were also our weaknesses.”
The consultants said with this phase done, they would be able to now focus on recruitment.