By Nicholas von Wettberg
Finalizing the next step in its quest for a new Superintendent, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) Board of Education agreed to a contract for the consultant services of the Southern California-based search firm, Leadership Associates.
The decision concluded proceedings for Tuesday night’s special Board meeting, during which an interview took place with a pair of representatives from the company.
Before the interview, inside the Community Chambers, the Board greeted Kevin French, who will serve as interim Superintendent beginning April 1.
French is a familiar face to the Davis school community, having served the DJUSD under various administrative roles, from 2006-2011.
“It’s not welcome Kevin, it’s welcome back,” said Board Member Susan Lovenburg. “I’m really pleased that, with your knowledge of the Davis Joint Unified School District and the Davis community, and the regard that you’re held still in this community, makes this an obvious choice for this position, and I’m so pleased that the stars all aligned to make it happen.”
French retired in June from his job as the Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services for the Acalanes Union High School District.
“I just want to say, thank you very much and I’m glad the stars aligned, so to speak, so we could be here together,” French said. “It wasn’t my intention to come back and return to work, so quickly after retiring, but for Davis because I have such warm feelings for the community and the schools and staff, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Heading into the search process for a new Superintendent, which began only a few weeks back with the official resignation of Winfred Roberson, the general assumption was there would be multiple candidates that responded to the drawn-up Request for Proposals (RFP) for a search firm.
The Board, or more specifically, an ad-hoc committee consisting of Board President Madhavi Sunder, Trustee Alan Fernandes, and Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby, did receive a total of five responses (six RFPs were mailed out). However, only one proved worthy of final consideration.
“We spent quite a bit of time going over all of the proposals…out of the proposals that came in, Leadership Associates was the only firm out of the five that submitted that really answered the questions for our minimum criteria, and additionally that we thought had the quality in all our other areas in our request for proposals,” Colby said. “So based on that we asked that Leadership Associates come here and talk to you tonight about their proposal and answer any questions that you have.”
Board Member Tom Adams asked Colby, who acted as the bid manager for RFPs, to clarify why certain firms were disqualified from the process.
Colby said that, in accordance to the guidelines of the RFP evaluation (another product of the sub-committee’s efforts) an acceptable proposal would have been to meet all 12 requirements listed in the minimum criteria section.
Trustee Fernandes added that it was fully the hope to bring two or three search firms into final consideration, and that, had they opted, there were other processes out there to explore, such as a less transparent, less competitive one, perhaps without RFPs.
“I think we rightfully as a board opted to open it up to really hear from the communities that do this kind of work and really hear their proposal to us,” Fernandes said. “Once you do that, it is my feeling as a member of the committee that we have to commit to an RFP process. Certainly when you do that, from my own personal experience, professionally, having been on both sides of the RFP process, you really have to evaluate objectively each of the proposals coming forward.”
Fernandes reasoned that the responses provided by Leadership Associates, in the RFP, had been far and away better than its closest competitor (which, not coincidentally, had addressed eight of eleven requirements on the minimum criteria list).
Adams, who cited previous experience working with RFPs, wondered if the discrepancy, and that only one applicant showed full competency, revealed a flaw in the application procedure.
“The process was really just a lot of folks that mailed it in kind of a standard form booklet without even addressing Davis, and our community…we were very disappointed by that,” Sunder said.
Qualifying that in no way did he imply that the remaining candidates were unqualified for the position, Fernandes said that after doing some research he was generally impressed with the quality of some firms’ past work, but he, for the most part, had been underwhelmed by the RFPs.
The company’s senior advisor and partner, Jim Brown, attended the meeting, along with Dr. Peggy Lynch, also a partner in the firm, which has a history with Davis dating back to 2007, when it assisted in the hiring of Dr. James Hammond.
Both Brown and Lynch are former school district superintendents, and make up a 13-member team, that currently is conducting ten separate statewide district searches.
After thanking the Board for the opportunity, Brown briefly provided some background on the firm, highlighting the importance of the RFP process, which he says “is our first introduction, generally, to what is important to the district that we hope to be serving and so we learn a little bit more about you…and begin to think about what services we can provide to be of specific value to you.”
Lynch said that, during her time at Leadership Associates, which began in 2008, she has been directly involved in over 30 searches.
Three partners have been assigned for services, according to Brown. He said the other member, Rich Thome, was unavailable due to his present involvement in an ongoing search.
An employee of Leadership Associates since 2004, Brown has been part of an estimated 50-60 searches, and, as a testament to his commitment to the job, was involved in the last search done by the DJUSD.
“We’re a different board, which is good, so it’s nice to meet all of you, it’s good to be back,” said Brown, who served as a Superintendent (Palo Alto, Glendale) in California for 37 years. “I was telling Peggy on the ride over all about Davis, what a good community it is, what a good district it is and how much she’s going to enjoy working here.”
The Board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 17, which will be the final school board meeting appearance for outgoing Superintendent Roberson.