Arguably, the most important responsibility of a board of education is the hiring of a superintendent. Typically, board members are expected to make this important decision without having had experience as a superintendent or even a clear understanding of the day-to-day requirements of the job. Thus, frequently the situation is a group of underprepared volunteers making the most important decision they can make for their school community.
The process of hiring a superintendent is normally an attempt to determine two subjective indicators of “fit.” First, board members attempt to estimate the level of job fit. In other words, the board attempts to evaluate whether an applicant possesses the qualifications for the job that corresponds to the job requirements. Second, the board attempts to determine the level of person-organization fit. Does the applicant have the personality, values, and interests that correspond to the district’s organizational values and culture?
The primary vehicle used to make these determinations of “fit” are interviews. The interview process can result in a wide range of outcomes, from very-high to very-low ability to predict the success of job candidates. In other words, a poorly designed and conducted interview will provide very little insight into the applicant’s potential to perform in the organization. On the other hand, even though the best selection methods will sometimes lead to bad hiring decisions, more valid methods will dramatically increase the proportion of good hiring decisions.
Decades of employment-interview research have highlighted the value of structured interviews. More specifically, interviews in which the questions are prepared in advance, all interviewees are asked the same questions in the same order, and anchored rating scales are used to score and compare applicant’s responses lead to better hiring decisions. This type of systematic, standardized approach reduces the risk of biases, errors, and personal preferences.
Of course, the types of questions asked matter. The questions used must accurately capture the job requirements of the superintendent. To achieve this goal, the questions should be based on the Professional Standards for School Leaders (National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 2015).
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If someone could use specific knowledge, skills, or abilities to achieve something in the past, they are very likely able to replicate the same behavior again in the future when facing a similar situation. Thus, all of the questions asked should be phrased to gather information about the application of specific skills to solve particular job-related problems.
To evaluate the applicant’s responses, anchored rating scales and sample indicators of performance need to be developed. Sample indicators provide characteristics and examples of what might be included in a higher quality response. The sample indicators will not be all-inclusive and cannot be used like a checklist. The rating scales provide a systematic means for evaluating and comparing candidates’ responses.
Once an initial interview pool is selected, the board should schedule and conduct screening interviews. The screening interview should be a shortened version of a second, more comprehensive interview. The purpose of the screening interview is to validly and fairly narrow the larger pool so that an in-depth interview will occur with only the most promising candidates. It is vitally important for the reliability and validity of the interview process that the questions be asked in the same order and the same manner of all of the candidates. Immediately upon completing the interview questions, interviewers should use their notes to complete the rating scales individually and develop the overall score. If a candidate’s answer has all of the elements of a lower category and some of the elements of a higher category, it is acceptable to assign a .5 score (i.e., 2.5 instead of 2.0 or 3.0). Candidates with the highest average overall scores will be invited back for a comprehensive interview.
The comprehensive interview contains both more and different questions designed to assess an applicant’s ability to handle the eight major job performance categories. The process for completing the comprehensive interview is largely the same as the process that was used to complete the screening interview. One difference is that a comprehensive interview could contain the option of requiring the candidate to complete a performance task. If provided, a performance task requires candidates to apply their knowledge and experience to authentic problems faced by a superintendent. The task designed will never encompass all of the types of problems that superintendents experience. Instead, they are an example designed to assess a candidate’s decision-making and problem-solving skills when confronted with real-world problems. The board should decide in advance if they are going to require completion of one of these tasks. If the decision is made to require completion of one of the tasks, it must be the same task for all candidates.
Using a process like the one articulated in this text will greatly increase the chances that the school board will select the most appropriate candidate. Of course, as part of a comprehensive process, the school board will want to review credentials and check references. However, most decisions are made based on the information collected during the interview process. Therefore, this process needs to be as systematic and comprehensive as possible.
SAMPLE QUESTIONS, INDICATORS, AND SCORING SCALE:
- Please describe the process you have used to develop a district budget. In your description, please include how you determined funding priorities for the school district.
Sample Quality Indicators:
- Allocates resources consistent with the mission and strategic plan of the school district.
- Meets and works collaboratively with the board and appropriate staff to determine priorities for budgeting.
- Oversees budget development and prepares it for school board approval.
- Applies financial forecasting and planning procedures that support efficient use of all school district resources.
|Through examples of actions taken, the applicant demonstrates the ability to develop the annual school district budget effectively. In addition, he/she demonstrates how his/her allocation of resources has had a strong positive impact on the school district’s success.||Through relevant examples of actions taken, the applicant demonstrates the ability to develop the annual school district budget effectively.||The applicant demonstrates the knowledge required to develop a school district budget but does not provide relevant examples of actions to improve a district in this area.
||The applicant does not demonstrate the knowledge necessary to develop a school district budget.|
Matthew Jennings (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Human Resources Director in Cranford Township, New Jersey.