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Jacksonville Public Education Fund provides research, resources as Duval School Board embarks on search for new superintendent

Strengthening the systems that provide education is a matter of taking care of our city’s greatest asset: our children. Strong district leadership plays a critical role in ensuring that Duval County’s students are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life as well as meaningful contributors to our city.

The Duval County School Board met Monday to reflect on areas of strength and weakness from the district’s last superintendent search and set out next steps for its current process. The Board emphasized the need for community input, discussing holding public meetings to improve engagement among community members, parents, administrators, teachers and students. Before formally beginning the search, the Board decided to review and update its core values and academic targets in an effort to  present a strong vision for Duval County Public Schools to potential candidates. On September 18, the Board will meet to begin this work, and on October 2, they will review the academic targets.

In the meantime, Board Chairwoman Paula Wright and Board Member Warren Jones will draft a Request for Proposal; once issued, interested search firms will submit proposals that outline their approaches for the Board’s review.

Throughout the superintendent search, Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) will support the Board by providing research and resources relevant to each stage of the search process. JPEF recently compiled information on the most recent superintendent searches in the nation’s thirty largest school district and analyzed notable trends, which we discuss below.

Most Florida districts hired search firms

The most recent superintendent searches in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Pinellas and Polk occurred between 2008 and 2016. Out of these eight districts, six hired firms to manage the search process:

  • Broward and Palm Beach hired Ray & Associates;

  • Duval and Orange hired McPherson & Jacobson, LLC; and

  • Pinellas and Polk hired Florida School Boards Association.

Miami-Dade and Hillsborough did not use search firms and promoted from within the district.

Six of the eight districts have extended their superintendent contracts, demonstrating confidence in their school leaders. Broward’s contract with Robert Runcie and Orange’s contract with Barbara Jenkins were renewed through 2018 and 2019, respectively. The contracts for Albert Carvalho in Miami-Dade, Jeff Eakins in Hillsborough, Michael Grego in Pinellas, and Jacqueline Byrd in Polk have been extended through 2020, although Carvalho is reportedly considering a run for Congress so, Miami-Dade may be conducting a search sooner than anticipated.

When considering Duval County’s own superintendent search timeline, it may be helpful to monitor the activities in some of these other counties, as any potential search in another major Florida district could significantly impact the pool of available candidates in a Duval search.

In the largest school districts, no search firm equaled hiring from within

The most recent superintendent searches in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Clark, Broward, Houston, Hillsborough, Hawaii and Orange occurred between 2008 and 2017. Out of these ten districts, five hired firms to manage the search process:

  • Los Angeles hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates;

  • Broward, Houston, and Hawaii hired Ray & Associates; and

  • Orange hired McPherson & Jacobson, LLC.

All these districts with the exception of  Los Angeles, which promoted its Deputy Superintendent, a finalist in the nationwide search), brought in a new face with national recognition.

The five districts that did not use a search firm—New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Clark County and Hillsborough—hired a superintendent who was either previously the Assistant Superintendent or a senior employee with the City. The largest six districts all hired internally, either an Assistant Superintendent or a district or city employee, such as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff (Chicago’s Forrest Claypool). Given the size of these districts, the respective school boards may have felt like an insider with an established reputation and knowledge of their education issues would be the most likely to succeed.

What does this mean for Duval County?

We think this information will be assist the School Board in identifying trends among other large school districts that Duval County may choose to emulate in its search process. Overall, the data indicates that the biggest school districts have chosen to use reputable search firms with deep connections to potential superintendent candidates across the country to help them attract the strongest contenders.

Given Florida’s very open public records and meetings law (the Florida Sunshine Law), districts in our state may realize that a search firm can manage the difficulties associated with Florida’s unique requirements and assure candidates that the process will be handled responsibly. The two districts that did not use a search firm—Miami-Dade and Hillsborough—promoted their respective Assistant/Deputy Superintendents. Our analysis of the top ten districts echoed this trend: districts that did not use a search firm hired someone who already worked for the district, typically the “second-in-command” position.

From the data we analyzed, fifteen out of the thirty largest districts hired search firms with the majority going with either Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (four districts), McPherson & Jacobson, LLC (three districts), or Ray & Associates (three districts). Please see the “Large District Superintendents” file below to review the data, which includes the complete list of firms.

Jacksonville is recognizing its shared obligation to the children of our city. By strengthening the systems that support student success, we carry out our responsibility to provide education that enables children to grow, thrive, and become responsible citizens themselves. JPEF will continue to provide updates and information regarding Duval County’s search for a new superintendent. We encourage you to share the information with your friends and family and be a part of the movement to improve our public schools.