The Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education is about to take the first step in the search for a new, long-term superintendent. At its Aug. 18 meeting the board will listen to presentations from four firms to conduct the search. 

Each firm will appear before the school board for about 25 minutes starting at 6:30 p.m.

The board will hear from School Exec Connect, a Minnesota-based firm with extensive Chicago area connections and consultants; the Illinois Association of School Boards, which has a division that conducts superintendent searches; the firm Ray and Associates, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based firm; and the informal duo of former District 96 Superintendent David Bonnette and Dennis Kelly, the former superintendent of Lyons Township High School District 204.

“We’re really in the very early stages, and we’re going to see what everyone has to say about what they can provide to us,” said Jeff Miller, the president of the District 96 Board of Education. “We should be able to get a sense of what each group has to offer.”

Bonnette and Kelly are not part of a firm, but would team up to conduct the search. Bonnette, working alone, led the search that found current interim superintendents Patrick Patt and Griff Powell. He also led the search that ended with hiring the district’s new curriculum director, Merryl Brownlow. 

Patt, Powell and Brownlow have impressed school board members in their short time on the job, giving Bonnette great credibility with the school board.

“The board is very appreciative of David bringing in Merryl Brownlow,” Powell said. “He really is a very thorough guy. He really does his homework. He vets people thoroughly and as a result he has a lot of credibility with the board.”

Another option the board is considering is letting Patt and Powell conduct the search themselves.

“We have offered our services,” Powell said. “It’s not something we’re dying to do.”

Powell said that if he and Patt do the search, they would rely on the Illinois Association of School Boards to generate the pool of candidates which they would then vet.

One possible downside of having Patt and Powell conduct the search is that it is a very time-consuming process. Patt and Powell are limited to working no more than 100 days in a year by the Illinois Teacher Retirement System, and they are busy with day-to-day job of running the school district.

The board has decided not to interview the firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA), one of the biggest players in the superintendent search business in the Chicago area. 

Some school board members have soured on HYA in part because the firm led the searches that brought Bhavna Sharma-Lewis and Jonathan Lamberson to District 96. Powell said that at a recent special meeting he presented a number of search firms for the board to consider interviewing, including HYA.

“I guess they had some experience with that firm and that they decided that they wanted different firms,” Powell said.

Powell said that job of picking a new superintendent is perhaps the most important task the school board will undertake, and that it is important for the board to reach consensus on its ultimate choice.

“You don’t want to bring someone in on a 4-3 vote,” Powell said. “It’s not fair to the person and it’s the biggest decision the board is going to make in the next few years, so they need to really work together and have a consensus on this.” 

The board hopes to pick a search firm by September. Fall is the prime season for interviewing superintendent candidates and many school districts like to make job offers in December, so that they have the pick of the best candidates.

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