The next superintendent for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District should be a respectful and engaged individual who is committed to improving academic outcomes for all students, school board members on Tuesday told the search firm responsible for finding their new leader.
While the short candidate and district profile executive search consultant Fred van Leuven started to construct will be revised and updated as students, parents and community groups from across the Santa Maria Valley provide their input, it serves as a launching point for the estimated six-month search for outgoing Superintendent Mark Richardson’s replacement.
"We've already had people approach us who want to come work here, which is scary because they don't know what you're looking for yet," said van Leuven, a former Santa Ynez Valley Union High School superintendent who now is an associate partner with the Leadership Associates search firm. "There's a strong interest in this district."
After more than six years at the helm of the roughly 7,800-student district, Richardson announced last month that he will retire in early June. John Davis, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, will serve as acting superintendent as the search for a permanent candidate commences.
Under the timeline outlined by van Leuven, the district could approve a contract with a new superintendent as early as Nov. 12. The firm will meet with key groups — including feeder school districts, industry partner, youth advocacy groups — and publish an online survey in August to receive community input on the characteristics and qualities they believe are important for a new superintendent. That profile would accompany a September job listing advertised online and in print.
All board members agreed about prioritizing candidates with an ability to connect, engage and respond to Santa Maria's unique student population. Though board members expressed a preference for candidates with a desire to innovate, Carol Karamitsos said the district should consider a superintendent willing to come in and "help move forward what's already in progress."
"We’ve made a lot of progress," added Amy Lopez. "The train is going full force, and I don’t want to see it stopped at any stop for any reason."
Board member Dominick Palera stressed the importance of not just selecting a candidate familiar with the duties of the job but one with a demonstrated ability to manage the pressures of the job.
"[Being] superintendent is easy when things are going good," he said, "but a true leader really comes through when you have a crisis in the district."