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Executive Director Search Process and Lessons Learned

As we began the 2021/22 school year, the Town Council (governing board for Westlake Academy) authorized the Town Manager/CEO-Superintendent to enter into a contract with Carney, Sandoe, and Associates (CSA) to assist staff in recruiting the incoming Executive Director for our campus.  CSA has been in business since 1977 and has worked with “over 1,800 independent, private, boarding, and charter schools in 48 states and 32 countries to provide exceptional faculty recruitment, head of school search, and strategic consulting services.1The Town used their services when recruiting other positions and found that their network of local/international educational leaders and teaching staff to be of benefit in reaching a wider audience of candidates to ensure we are hiring those with the best experience and skills.

 

Phase One

Our consultant with CSA began spreading the word that we were seeking a new Executive Director and by December of 2021 we had approximately 80 people interested in the position. The consultant evaluated those applicants according to the Position Profile that was prepared through collaboration with the academic staff and the Town Council members.  CSA sent 50 of those applicants a request for further information and each person answered a comprehensive set of open-ended questions relative to their experience and fit for our school.  The resumes and responses that best fit our search parameters were then sent to the Town Manager/CEO-Superintendent to begin the interviewing process.

 

Phase Two

In early January of 2022, a Selection Committee (the Committee) was formed which was comprised of members from across the campus (PYP, MYP, DP staff), the counseling department, administration, human resources, the Executive Director of the Foundation, and our shared services team. The Committee spent the better part of two weeks reviewing the 27 resumes against a rubric to help determine their qualifications.  As we are a unique campus, we screened the resumes to find those who had the majority of the skills outlined in the recruitment profile.  Each Committee member was then asked to draft their own top 10 list of candidates that would then be discussed as a wider team to create a list of people to interview by video conferencing.  

 

The Committee met in early February to discuss the 27 candidates. The Committee did an excellent job evaluating each candidate on the merits of their skill set, asking difficult questions of each other to determine who would be best for our school, and collaborating on who would move on to the next round of the search. We sent the top 10 list of names to our consultant along with two “extra’s” in the event they were needed.  Thus, we went forward with 10 – plus two alternates.

 

CSA scheduled the video interviews over a three-day schedule to allow us the necessary time to talk with each semi-finalist. We interviewed 11 people by video as a few people removed their names from consideration as they had secured alternative employment. Our CSA consultant had advised that this was a very good possibility and it was expected that the list of names might become shorter as we moved along in the search.  It was a long and thought-provoking three days; however, we had some great conversations, learned new ideas from some of the candidates, and were successful in narrowing the list down to five people who would then move on to talk with the Town Council.

 

Phase Three

The Town Council members were then invited to talk with the remaining candidates over a two-day period.  Unfortunately, one of the candidates withdrew their name during this stage as they were recruited to participate in an around the world education tour with their family for the next year. All but one of the Council Members were able to meet, on Friday afternoon and all-day Saturday, to ask questions and collaborate with those who remained in the semi-finalist round.  Each candidate spent time reviewing their experience level and skillset and answering specific questions that fit issues, goals, and plans for our school. 

 

This round of discussions produced another source of feedback on the candidates and resulted in good collaboration. The field was then narrowed to three people who were invited to tour the school and meet with staff.

 

Phase Four

The three finalists visited the school on the 3rd and 4th of March 2022.  These were action-packed days for both the finalists and our staff teams.

 

In the morning, they toured the school and spent time in the classrooms with members of our administrative team for PYP, MYP, and DP. The tour time allowed each candidate to see a typical day in each Programme and they discussed their work history with the staff in a more relaxed environment. 

 

In the afternoon, each candidate met with two additional panels of staff members. Panel A consisted of the Primary Years Principal, Assistant Principal and Coordinator, the Middle Years Assistant Principal and Coordinator, and the DP Principal/Coordinator. Panel B had additional representatives from the counseling department, instructional technology staff, teaching staff, and our special education department. Feedback from both Panels was provided to the Town Manager/CEO-Superintendent and was another perspective that was important in the final selection.

 

Once the day on campus was complete, the candidates were offered the option to tour Town Hall and meet some of the shared services staff members who would be working with the incoming Executive Director. We have several support people in Information Technology, Human Resources, Finance, Communications, the Town Secretary, and our Facilities group that are housed in this office and they all work very closely with the school. This portion of the day allowed the applicants the time to discuss the efficiencies of our structure and how the municipal and academic services sides of our organization function.

 

 

 

Phase Five

The final step may seem shorter; however, it involved evaluating the interactions, responses, and interview sessions of each candidate through the criteria of the best fit for our school. Once a clear front runner was identified, the staff checked their references and discussions began to negotiate their hiring. I am very pleased to announce that Mr. Sean Wilson was the successful candidate. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our school and will be a great addition to Westlake Academy!

 

Please see the announcement letter sent to parents regarding Mr. Wilson.

 

Lessons Learned

I have now been involved, either directly or indirectly, with the hiring of all but one of our Head of School/Executive Principal/Executive Director2 positions and have been a part of the growth of this organization through the hiring of all of our principals, assistant principals, and coordinators. Each search was conducted slightly differently and each person who was hired brought their own work history, philosophy, and goals for the future. Some executive leadership hires were successful, and some found they were a better fit at another school. I have benefited from the hindsight of both the experiences of our previous governing bodies (elected officials) and our previous Town Manager/CEO-Superintendents and believe I have taken portions of each process and created a system that worked well for the uniqueness of Westlake.

 

The use of a multi-panel approach allowed me to evaluate their responses from the initial conversations with the Selection Committee to the final observations during the on-campus tour. This is a time when any candidate is likely to be a bit nervous and feel like they are in the hot seat of the first round of questioning. It can be daunting to face a video call with ten new people who are there to examine the merits of their qualifications based on their resume, written answers to open-ended questions, work history, and their response to discussions with the Committee. The Phased approach allows applicants to move from the formality of the first interview discussion to the more personable and informal time on campus. 

 

The next panel conversation with the Town Council was also daunting for the semi-finalists. The candidates were asked governance and policy questions that were not explored as thoroughly during the first conversation. The Council spent time exploring their leadership experiences in depth and asking questions that would be relevant to our parents and community members as a wider stakeholder group of our community.

 

The on-campus interview allowed me to view them through their interactions with the students and staff in both an informal tour setting and also through a more formal approach with staff in their question and answer session. The staff then provided independent feedback to me so that each person could express their experiences.

 

Another component of the hiring process included informal feedback that was not originally scheduled in the process.  While this option did not present itself to the external candidates, a few parents and staff members reached out via email and through one-on-one conversations to discuss their concerns/ideas for the campus. Their ability to reach out to one person who would objectively listen and allow them to express their thoughts was very beneficial to them and important in the final selection.

 

I hope this high-level overview, which is not meant to be an exhaustive recounting of the steps only an overview, helps provide insight into the deliberate approach that was used in the planning and implementation of the search process.  Anyone who holds the title of Executive Director/Head of School/Executive Principal serves as the educational and instructional leader for the Academy and my goal was to select the best-qualified candidate who possessed the skills to lead the school. They have a wide range of responsibilities: including, but not limited to - the operations and management of the school each day, mentoring and growing our staff teams and the Instructional Leadership Team, representing the school as the educational leader, assisting in drafting policy and setting goals and objectives for Council review, presenting campus updates to the Council each month, communicating with parents, assisting in marketing the school, fundraising efforts, seeking grants, and helping to oversee the finances. The person in this position is also part of an expanded team of Department Heads in the larger organization of the Town of Westlake. All of our staff members – academic and municipal –  strive to make Westlake such a wonderful place to live, learn, and work.

 

Sincerely,

Amanda DeGan

Town Manager/CEO-Superintendent

 

1 https://www.carneysandoe.com/about-us

2 Titles that have been used for the Executive Director position since 2003