What are stakeholder interview panels and how does it differ from recent Bellevue superintendent searches?

Stakeholder interview panels will meet January 17, 2023.

Stakeholder interview panels focus deeply on high-level, high-leverage input from a smaller group of community stakeholders who are randomly selected to participate in confidential stakeholder interviews through a fair and transparent process.  The Board will convene four stakeholder interview panels, consisting of fifteen members each, engaging sixty stakeholders in interviewing finalist candidates.  A cross-section of students, staff, parents, and community members will be represented.  The district commits to broad representation, inclusive of historically marginalized communities.  This is unprecedented community engagement in a Bellevue School District superintendent search process.  At the same time, it augments rather than reduces the quality of community feedback already collected by the Board and search firm through Board listening sessions, search firm focus groups, and community survey.

Recent Bellevue superintendent searches culminated in a process that is often used in the Puget Sound region, whereby finalists (typically two or three) are introduced to the community through a series of public events.  Stakeholders  – whether parents, students, staff, or community members – weighed in and provided feedback regarding the candidates.  The Board then deliberated and selected their preferred finalist to be the next superintendent of schools. These events do not provide for an authentic exchange between the candidate and stakeholder which would foster the kind of deep understanding that a superintendent search selection requires.

The Board’s interest is to ensure that stakeholders have an authentic and informed voice in providing feedback on superintendent candidates.  It does not include a public announcement of finalists, which as we discuss below creates a serious impediment to attracting the most exceptional talent.

What is the rationale for taking a different approach in this search?

  1. Quality of Pool.
    The Board’s interest is to attract and to retain a top-tier superintendent.  Top-tier, experienced superintendent candidates prefer more authentic, two-way, and confidential search processes.  Top-tier candidates will be simultaneously “interviewing” and assessing “fit and match” with the district and Board of Directors.  Experienced superintendents are shying away from search processes in which their names are surfaced publicly prior to selection.  This has always been problematic – but in the current era, where superintendents of great talent are in higher demand than ever before – top-drawer candidates are increasingly selective.  Many successful superintendents will opt out of a search process where they will be publicly identified as finalists for a job that they may not ultimately get. Recent superintendent searches from districts where finalists’ names are publicly revealed evidence that experienced superintendents are opting out of this kind of a process.
  2. Quality of Community Feedback.Stakeholder interview panels allow us to improve our capacity to provide Board feedback from a sizeable group of stakeholders that is rich and deep.  Sixty stakeholders, including parents, students, staff, and community-members, will go deep on the finalists by studying work samples, the Board’s “Ideal Profile,” engaging in interviews and potentially in telephone reference calls.  The stakeholders involved will not be self-selected or appointed by the Board; rather we will take pains to ensure that a broad representation of the Bellevue community is engaged – including stakeholders who have been visible as well as those who have been not-so-visible in decision-making in the past.
    Although there is sometimes a tendency to think that more feedback is better, in actuality that’s not our experience.  Large-scale qualitative feedback is very difficult –if not impossible– to turn into usable feedback for the Board in the short turnaround time that is required.  Other areas of concern, such as feedback from stakeholders who may have only watched a single candidate – or who have a strong bias toward a candidate and a large network of friends and colleagues – creates some complexities. Quantitative feedback on finalists in a superintendent search is of some, but limited, value
  3. Equity.  In searches where there is a large-scale amount of feedback, it can feel overwhelming to Board Directors to make sense of the various voices providing feedback.  And, that input can be disproportionately shaped by those who choose to engage or have access.  Rather, a representative sample of stakeholders randomly selected to participate will provide more equitable input improving the validity of the feedback.

Has this been done before?

Yes, in many places.  Recent searches in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Beaverton all employed a path similar to this  In Washington state, Central Kitsap and Sequim have recently employed searches that are similar to this path.  Beaverton and Los Angeles recently completed their searches hiring two experienced, top-tier superintendents, both of which were named American Association of School Administrators National Superintendent of the Year.  Additionally, Los Angeles, Portland and Beaverton searches resulted in BIPOC candidates being appointed as superintendent.

In practice, what would this actually look like?

A group of sixty stakeholders would be selected through a fully randomized lottery system with controls to ensure a diverse representation.  Each stakeholder who applies will be to confirm availability and to commit to confidentiality.  There is no written application or appointment process; it is a randomized process. The stakeholders will then be assigned to one of four small groups of 15, each with a facilitator from Human Capital Enterprises.

Once the Board identifies finalists for the role of superintendent, each of those small groups will convene separately; study the candidate paperwork and ideal profile, and interview each finalist.  The groups will ask their own set of interview questions; deliberate as a group; and provide group as well as individual feedback which will be presented to the Board.  The value of receiving authentically informed feedback from stakeholder interview panels is critically important to the Board.  This is an opportunity for deeper stakeholder engagement and examination of finalists, the degree to which, will require panelists to sign a non-disclosure confidentiality agreement as a condition of participating.  The Board is inviting this level of access to candidate information, typically reserved for the Board, to follow through on its commitment to broaden community engagement.  This process has been recommended by Human Capital Enterprises, the executive search firm retained by the Bellevue School District Board of Directors, in order to ensure a process that provides high quality feedback, ensures equity of the voices providing feedback, and attracts and retains a top-tier superintendent.

Share your questions and comments about the superintendent search by email: [email protected].

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.