After several months of narrowing down potential Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) superintendent candidates, an advisory panel composed of 10 community members, five District employees and two students interviewed the finalists earlier this week.
According to Board President Ken Dauber, the committee aims to gain insights about each of the candidates.
“Community and staff members will have a perspective that may differ from Board members or the search firm, and we want to get the broadest possible input.”
Board President Ken Dauber
The 17-member panel was formed through a series of nominations. Board members nominated two community members each, the Assistant Supt. Anne Brown nominated five school administrators and two students were also chosen: one from Paly and one from Gunn.
“The students were selected with the help of the high school principals, I believe,” Dauber said.
Traditionally, the Board has selected candidates for top District positions through a professional search firm. This time, however, the use of a committee in addition to a hired search firm may help provide feedback to the Board about the candidates from the public’s eye rather than solely a recommendation from a professional consulting group.
“The Board will incorporate the feedback into discussion of the candidates,” Dauber said. “I don’t know how the feedback will differ [from the Board’s current knowledge of the candidates] — I’m curious to find out! I think community members will probably have different concerns and a different perspective than our consultants.”
In fact, the remaining evaluations of the candidates will not be done by the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, but instead by the panel and the Board.
“The search firm really did all the groundwork, and the actual evaluations of the candidates were only done by the Board and this panel,” said Gunn junior Kathy Liu, one of the student representatives on the panel. “After all, it would really not make a lot of sense for an outside organization to be making any type of judgments on the future superintendent of a community they might not be a part of, and everyone recognizes that.”
The panel, however, may not wield significant clout on the final selection since the Board and the search firm have already completed most of the selection process.
“I am not entirely sure how much weight the board will actually place on the strengths and concerns lists we produced,” Liu said. “It’s very possible that they each already have their own favorite candidate and the culmination of our eight hours of work may not really affect that much at all. In my personal opinion as a student who does not always see every side of the picture, it is very easy for the district or the Board to put up these community panels or surveys or focus groups, but whether or not they actually end up being meaningful depends entirely on the mindset of the people actually making these decisions. But, I guess we’ll never know the truth.”
Regardless, many commend the Board’s efforts to include community members and students as part of the official process.
“I think the board’s decision to give various groups in the community and District this time and opportunity to be directly involved in this process really shows that they’re taking steps towards increased transparency and representation, which I personally really appreciate,” Liu said. “They could have very easily not included students in this panel, and I do not think the student body at large, at least at Gunn, would have been exactly up in arms about it like we are with a lot of other things, but they invited us anyways. From that, I see that the board recognizes and respects the different but important viewpoints from all stakeholder groups.”