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June 19, 2021

Superintendent Search Starts

Gilroy – School trustees have tentatively picked a search firm
to find a replacement for Superintendent Edwin Diaz, who is bound
for a new job in Pasadena this March.
Gilroy – School trustees have tentatively picked a search firm to find a replacement for Superintendent Edwin Diaz, who is bound for a new job in Pasadena this March. Their choice: Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, a Chicago-based firm with aggressive tactics and a national reach. The firm beat out three other groups, interviewed by Gilroy Unified School District’s board in two grueling three-and-a-half hour public meetings this week.

HYA casts a wide net for candidates, recruiting across state lines. In California, 60 percent of schools end up hiring a California candidate anyway, said HYA president Bill Attea, but “it’s worth your while to do a national search … You look for inherent skills and abilities” that apply in any state. That impressed board president Tom Bundros, who said Gilroy schools could use a fresh, out-of-state perspective.

“I’m a little concerned we may be ingrown,” said Bundros. “We’re too complacent with the performance we’re getting.” With GUSD’s test scores, he remarked, “we shouldn’t be handing out popcorn and cigars.”

Other trustees liked HYA’s four-day community consultation process, twice as long as other firms’ standard one- or two-day plans. Attea emphasized openness and transparency in the search process – except, he cautioned, when it comes to revealing the candidates.

“The more confidential you keep the search, the better your applicant pool,” he said. News that a superintendent is sniffing around for a job elsewhere can sink their standing at home. “People aren’t forgiving, and if it gets out, it’ll be on the Internet within minutes.”

HYA also offered to redo a search for free if Gilroy’s new superintendent skips out within four years. Attea estimated that 90 percent of the superintendents HYA placed were still at their jobs, or had retired from them – a pleasing prospect for board members reluctant to repeat the process. HYA asks candidates to commit five to 10 years to a district.

Four of the board’s seven members ranked HYA first among the four firms interviewed. The other three members preferred Leadership Associates, the California-focused firm that wooed Diaz to Pasadena. Trustee Javier Aguirre, who listed HYA as his third choice, based on a selection matrix comparing cost, staffing, public input, and references, was wary of the firm’s $25,000 price tag, $2,000 higher than the firm charged slightly-smaller Palo Alto. Aguirre also wanted to know who the firm would send to meet with parents, students and community members.

“Who is the face that comes to the community?” Aguirre asked, adding that though he would be comfortable with choosing HYA, he “want[ed] to make sure … We need to know who we’re dealing with.”

A dismal review of HYA from one Palo Alto school board member also worried Aguirre. Few seemed to share the board member’s low opinion.

Trustee Rhoda Bress said she heard only rave reviews from the school districts she phoned in California, Massachusetts and Texas. When those districts were asked to rate the firm out of a possible 5, three representatives gave it a 5, one gave it an off-the-charts 10, and one gave it a 4, adding, “I don’t give anything in public education a 5.” Former Morgan Hill superintendent Caroline McKenna, who joined Attea as he presented to the board Wednesday night, vouched for the firm, saying, “I respect the work they do.”

Still, in light of Aguirre’s concerns, the board decided to ask for the resumes of HYA associates they could choose from, and to negotiate a lower price, or additional services for the same cost. Provided that HYA and the board can hammer out the details this week, the board will vote on a contract at its Feb. 1 meeting.

HYA is also recruiting candidates for San Francisco and Palo Alto school districts, but Attea assured trustees that the big-name schools wouldn’t detract from the Gilroy search. In the past, said Attea, the firm has conducted up to 50 searches at once. Nor was HYA fazed by GUSD’s July 1 due date for a superintendent: Attea said they might even nab a new superintendent by May.

The Firm

Who: Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, a Chicago-based firm, founded in 1987, with more than 1,000

associates in 40 states, including college professors, active and retired superintendents, military, government and business leaders. HYA bills itself as the nation’s most experienced search firm: the group has conducted more than 500 searches nationwide, 25 of them in California, and more than 100 in districts larger than 10,000 students. Right now, HYA is working with districts in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

Process: Three associates develop a leadership profile for Gilroy schools, working with trustees, parents and community members, then aggressively recruit college professors, superintendents and non-traditional

candidates from the military, government and business. Rates candidates based on district’s wants.

Price tag: $25,000, plus $1,500 to $5,000 for a

background check and interview expenses.

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