A failure to communicate
The Medford School Board has decided to keep the process of hiring its new superintendent entirely secret. While that may be legal, it shuts the public out of an important decision and sends an unfortunate message as the district attempts to move on from a divisive teachers strike.
The School Board contracted with an executive search firm, which screened 49 potential candidates and recommended 12. Of those, the board interviewed six, and chose two favorites for second interviews.
That's the point — when finalists were selected — at which their identities should have been made public.
It's understandable that high-level administrators don't want their current employers to know they're thinking of leaving. If you are among a dozen candidates being interviewed, there's a good chance you won't be a finalist, and secrecy at that stage means you can keep doing your present job with no one the wiser.
But once finalists have been chosen, their potential employers — the taxpaying residents of the district — ought to know who they are and what kind of leader they might be. Board members also benefit from seeing the candidates interact with the community and with district staff in public and private settings.
When the Ashland School District sought a new superintendent to take over upon Juli Di Chiro's retirement, candidates were told their names would be made public if they were selected as finalists. The finalists visited district schools and met with staff, parents and other district patrons.
The Ashland board's first choice decided to withdraw, as did the other two finalists. The board conducted a new search — also making the finalists public — and chose a new superintendent last May.
The first choice decided he would not be a "good fit" with the Ashland district and elected to stay in his current position. Critics might say a good prospect was "scared off" by the public process. But hiring the top choice only to have that person leave after realizing the job wasn't a good fit would be far more disruptive.
Beyond the constraints a secret process places on board members trying to choose the best candidate, the board should consider the message it sends to the community.
One of the chief complaints Medford School Board members had about outgoing Superintendent Phil Long during his tenure was poor communication with the board and with the public. Now, the board is preventing the public from even knowing the identities of the finalists to replace Long.
If communicating with the public is still a priority for this board, this is not a good way to show it.