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Search Firms Rely on Conference’s Job Fair to Fill Superintendent Vacancies for Anxious School Boards

AASA’s National Conference on Education always serves a useful purpose with its timing in mid-winter, giving school boards with current or expected vacancies in their top leadership posts a chance to size up the marketplace.

Nine executive search firms will be present during the first two days of the 2023 conference in San Antonio, Texas, as they attempt to drum up interest among experienced school leaders willing to consider new career opportunities. The superintendent job fair runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, in Room 305, site of Job Central at the AASA conference.

Max McGee

The participating firms include Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the biggest firm in the superintendent search business. The firm’s website listed 230 superintendent vacancies nationwide during the second half of January with the expectation of several dozen more by the start of the conference.

HYA & Associates, led by Glenn “Max” McGee, handled the nationwide search that resulted in the selection of David Schuler as AASA’s new executive director. He starts at the end of February, succeeding Daniel Domenech.

In addition to HYA, the participating executive search firms are BWP & Associates, GR Recruiting, J.G. Consulting, McPherson & Jacobson and Ray & Associates plus the superintendent search arms of large state school boards associations from Arizona, Illinois and Texas.

Conference Daily Online interviewed several of the search consultants just prior to the conference’s start.

Would you say the AASA national conference is playing a significant purpose in 2023 given the current state of the superintendency?

Max McGee, HYA & Associates: “The event will be highly significant.  We are finding that the current state of the superintendency is being more and more affected by school board elections, which both create new openings for courageous leaders and are an impetus for sitting superintendents to start looking for more preferable positions.”

Stephen Joel

Stephen Joel, McPherson & Jacobson: “Perhaps more than ever, the need for superintendents to gather has never been greater. As most have experienced significant challenges the last few years, AASA provides a great opportunity to network, learn and experience some respite from the work. The recent school board elections have led to many superintendents resigning or contemplating their next move. A major theme of the conference over the years has been the job search, and my sense is that this year will see an increase in participation in all that AASA offers.”

Patricia Sullivan-Viniard, Illinois Association of School Boards: “The IASB's Executive Search team finds the AASA conference to be an excellent opportunity to network with prospective candidates, search colleagues from other state board organizations, and school board members.” 

Based on the number of superintendent vacancies you’re currently handling (as of mid-January), how many would you expect at the time of the AASA conference?

Joel: “We recently had our first surge of openings which came from those that were ready to announce retirements.   There has been an increase since November and then we will have the ripple effect where those taking new positions create additional vacancies.  Last year, McPherson and Jacobson had a record number of searches.”

Sullivan-Viniard: “So far for the 2022-2023 school year, our team has completed 10 superintendent searches, with another nine still in progress.”

How does your firm use its presence at AASA’s national conference to address school boards’ leadership needs?

McGee: “HYA applies to present at the conference every year to share how we can support applicants and ideally steer them toward positions that are the right fit for them. We also use the conference to recruit candidates for the boards we are serving and urge aspiring candidates to visit us at Job Central.”

Joel: “McPherson and Jacobson has attended for many years and uses the conference to establish relationships with those who are interested in new challenges or seeking support with the work they are doing with their boards and communities.” 

Sullivan-Viniard: “We use our presence at AASA's national conference to share insights regarding how our service, process and experience can support a school board and enhance the knowledge and confidence of its members as they take on the critical work of securing the district's next educational leader.”

Are you expecting a greater challenge in attracting qualified candidates for the many vacancies this year based on your experiences to date?

McGee: “Actually, I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of candidates — both sitting superintendents looking to relocate and aspiring first time superintendents — as well as the number of applicants.”

Joel: “Having done many searches across the country over the years, I can say that we are experiencing fewer numbers of qualified candidates seeking positions. However, there seems to always be several who emerge that align with the criteria established by the school board.” 

Sullivan-Viniard: “The data show we are getting a smaller number of applicants per search than we were a few years ago. In spite of that, we have been able to identify a qualified slate of candidates for each search.”

(Jay Goldman is editor in chief of Conference Daily Online and editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine.)

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