The field of candidates in the running to become the new superintendent in Riverside Elementary School District 96 is now down to 11.

Consultants David Bonnette, former District 96 superintendent, and Dennis Kelly, former superintendent of Lyons Township High School District 204, who are leading the search for a new superintendent, reported to the school board on the status of the search at a special board meeting on Dec. 1.

The district received 45 completed applications for the position of superintendent. Bonnette and Kelly, working closely with co-interim superintendents Patrick Patt and Griff Powell, quickly narrowed the field of contenders to 11 candidates.

“We feel really good about where we’re at right now,” said Bonnette. 

During the next month Bonnette and Kelly, perhaps along with Patt and/or Powell, will informally meet with all 11 candidates to come up with six candidates to submit to the school board on Jan. 5, 2016. 

The entire school board will interview the six semifinalists during the week of Jan. 18. Three finalists will be called back for second interviews during the next week, according to a timeline Bonnette gave to board members.

The timeline calls for the board to make a decision on a hire after their last interview on Jan. 27, perhaps that night or soon thereafter.

The board hopes to vote on approving the contract and introduce the new superintendent at its Feb. 16 meeting.

Of the 11 candidates still in the running, six are current superintendents and five are assistant superintendents. Seven are men and four are women. Ten have doctoral degrees and 10 are currently working in the state of Illinois.

“It’s a real strong field,” Powell told the school board. “[Patt] has done more work on this than me, and he’s read every single reference letter. He’s thrilled with the people [Bonnette and Kelly] have come up with.”

Patt said that at this stage of the decision-making process, he is looking more for things that would make a candidate unsuitable.

“My objective in this whole thing has been to not necessarily find the best candidates initially, but to find the people who might not be the best candidates,” Patt said. “We’re all kind of working this together. From the very beginning the whole concept was the more eyes on this the better.”

During the Dec. 1 special meeting, board member Rachel Marrello, who was critical of former Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, broached the idea of asking if candidates would accept either a one-year contract or a contract with an escape clause should the hire not work out.

“I would just like to see some protection for the board here,” Marrello said.

But Kelly said strong candidates would probably not be willing to leave their current job for a one-year contract.

“That’s your decision,” Kelly told the board about the length of a contract to offer. “I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of candidates coming for one year. It would be hard to tell them that you’re interested in a long-term relationship and then give them a one-year contract.”

Kelly noted that three-year contracts are the norm for new superintendents. School board President Jeff Miller warned that it would dangerous to deviate from the market standard.

“I don’t want to deter a strong candidate,” Miller said.

Committee will help district vet final candidates

A confidential committee probably consisting three principals, three administrative staff, three teachers and three parents will help the school board choose a new superintendent for Riverside Elementary School District 96.

The committee members, who will be chosen by co-interim superintendents Patrick Patt and Griff Powell, will meet with the three finalists for the position just before final interviews with the school board in late January 2016.

“It’s a means to have some involvement of constituents, staff members, parents, community members, without having the process become so open that it starts to restrict your field of candidates,” said former District 96 Superintendent David Bonnette, who is leading the search for a new superintendent along with former Lyons Township High School District 204 superintendent Dennis Kelly. 

The idea for a confidential committee came from Bonnette and Kelly.

The role of the committee, whose members will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement, is go get additional input and additional reactions to the three finalists.

“They’re providing another set of eyes and opinions that will be forwarded to you, but we’re not asking them to rate people and we’re not asking them to make any recommendations,” Bonnette told the school board.  

After meeting with the finalists committee members will fill out a two-page feedback form and answer questions about their impressions of the finalist.

Bonnette and Kelly will have a training session with committee members before the members meet any of the candidates.

There will be no application process to get on the committee. The process for selecting parents who will be members has yet to be determined. One strong possibility is asking the district’s PTA and PTO presidents to nominate three people to serve on the committee.

—Bob Skolnik