Firm answers questions about Albert Lea superintendent search process

Published 6:46 am Thursday, April 28, 2022

Representatives from the Minnesota School Boards Association held a virtual question-and-answer session Thursday afternoon with members of the community regarding the search for a new Albert Lea Area Schools superintendent.

“I know that it is very important to the Albert Lea Area School Board that all stakeholders have access to information that is accurate and transparent,” said Director of Leadership and Development Search Barb Dorn.

Doing a superintendent search includes knowing the district, identifying hiring criteria and the leadership profile that best fit the next leader of the district. It also included marketing the position, developing a vacancy brochure, getting the word out, reviewing applications, screening candidates and listening to the answers from candidates.

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Finding a superintendent, according to Dorn, also needs to be balanced by a scientific aspect. That science is driven by the open meeting law (where board members conduct the entire search in the public) and the data practices act (data privacy laws where only final candidates who are interviewed by the board will have their names revealed).

She said board members still need to discuss what steps could occur during the interview process as far as opportunities for finalists to interact with the public and whether tours will be provided, who would host them and where candidates would go.

She said a number of questions submitted to the MSBA were questions for candidates relating to candidate priorities, the pandemic and school times.

“We will keep those in mind as the interview questions are crafted,” she said.

In addressing a question about Albert Lea needing a superintendent with experience, she said not necessarily.

“There are superintendents that may move from one district to another looking for a new opportunity, that does happen,” she said. “There are, however, some phenomenal leaders that have not yet served as a superintendent.”

She said experience to work in a district the size of Albert Lea could be gleaned from working at a larger district as a cabinet member or at a director level or as a principal.

In the board’s decision to hire MSBA, she said she couldn’t speak specifically for the board but explained why boards bring in a third party to help with the search.

“It really boils down to two things for every district that chooses this route,” she said. “One is the complexity of the process.”

The search is also labor-intensive with a lot of heavy lifting.

“If that is done, it puts a very heavy burden on internal staff to oversee and manage the process, in which case they need to remove some of the burden on internal staff working on the search.

“Also, boards like to do their due diligence and cast as wide a net as possible to make sure that the candidates who are applying know of the position, know what the expectations are and then help you to weed through those applications with an eye on this is our district.”

She also argued outside consultants bring an objective perspective to the process and that a search firm can help collect and analyze stakeholder input. 

She said MSBAs involvement in the search hinges on impartiality and professionalism.

“We do conduct more searches across the state of Minnesota than any other search firm,” she said. 

Out of approximately 50 or 60 openings this year, MSBA has assisted in 33 searches.

“We work for the school board,” she said. “Everything about our process is seen through the lens of school board leadership. We facilitate the process, and the process is owned by the school board.”

She said their role is to ensure that the school board has the information that they need in order to make the best decisions for the district.

Adding to that, Associate Director of Strategic Governance John Ward said technically only the board could hire a new superintendent.

A stakeholder survey, available on the district’s website, will be open until midnight Thursday.

“If you haven’t filled it out yet, please do so,” Dorn said.

Ward said he would have results of the survey sometime before May 5, and MSBA’s recommendation is that the results be posted to the district’s website.

“Stakeholders who don’t reply would want to see those results and then also candidates often will read those stakeholder reports as they prepare,” he said. “They want to see, too, where the strengths are and maybe where some of the opportunities for growth are.”

In the leadership profile in the application brochure, the board is specifically looking for a superintendent with proven leadership experience who:

  • Acts with honesty and in an ethical manner with the school board, staff and community
  • Develops and directs an effective leadership team
  • Works cooperatively with the school board; provides options and recommendations
  • Is a visionary, creative thinker
  • Has experience in school district management practices
  • Follows the school board’s chosen educational philosophy which reflects the community’s values 
  • Has knowledge of and experience with negotiations and the collective bargaining process 

Applications are open until midnight on May 10 and can be found on the MSBA, MASA (Minnesota Association of School Administration), EdPost and Revelus websites. 

May 5 there will be a special board meeting for training and to show the board a summary of the stakeholder report.

From May 11 to 17, the MSBA will begin screening and preliminary verification of references. The MSBA will also show the board their list of recommended applicants.

From May 12 to 17, board members will review the applications, and on May 17 the board will determine their finalists, practice interview questions and procedures. That will be when the names of semifinalists are revealed.

First round interviews will be at 4 p.m. May 23 and 24, and a second round interview with finalists will be at 4 p.m. May 26.

“All of these interviews, both round one and round two, are open to the public,” Dorn said. “So please, if you are interested in the search, come and observe the interviews that these candidates are having with the school board.”

It has not been determined if the interviews will be live-streamed, though Dorn recommended they not be streamed.

May 27 negotiations will commence with the finalists, and if they’re successful, the board should approve a contract on June 6 during their 5 p.m. meeting. The new superintendent would begin July 1. 

If board members don’t find a candidate, the MSBA will work with them to find an interim.

“If you do a settle for, not always, but often, it doesn’t end well for anyone,” Ward added.

The Q&A session is expected to be uploaded on YouTube and shared on the Albert Lea Area Schools website Thursday. 

Based on enrollment, the cost for the search is $13,500 for Albert Lea Area Schools.  

The search is underway as Superintendent Mike Funk resigned to become the new superintendent in Stillwater.