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Executive Search Firms and Those Aspiring for the Superintendency Find the Career Expo to be a Meeting Place of Choice at AASA’s Conference

Sylvia Flowers, managing director of the Alma Advisory Group, talks to perspective client in the Career Expo during the National Conference on Education at the San Diego Convention Center, Feb. 16, 2024. Photo by Howard Lipin.

Sara Newell certainly looked like she meant business. The high school principal from Kannapolis, N.C., brought a sharp green blazer and an engaging personality as she patiently waited to speak with job recruiters Friday at AASA’s National Conference on Education’s Career Expo.

Newell, who has worked in Kannapolis for all 22 years of her education career, isn’t looking for greener pastures. But, as a member of AASA’s Aspiring Superintendent Academies, she thought it worthwhile to kick the tires and find out what the several national superintendent search firms in attendance were seeking in top leadership vacancies across the country.

“I love my town, so I think this is just a learning experience about how I can better myself,” said Newell, who hopes to one day become superintendent of a small district. 

“I’m hoping that if I can talk to some of these companies that they can give me some guidance on that — even within my own district — of how I can make myself more marketable,” she said.

Newell was among the hundreds of educators who found their way to the newly reconstituted Career Expo, which replaced the superintendent job fair of previous AASA conferences.

Among the major search firms in attendance in San Diego were Omaha, Neb.-based McPherson & Jacobson and Hazard Young Attea Associates, the country’s largest superintendent search firm, which is based in the Chicago suburbs.

Representatives from both firms said expo attendance on Thursday had been “nonstop.” Friday proved equally productive as conference attendees — mostly aspiring superintendents looking for their next move — waited at tables to speak one-on-one with representatives of their firms of choice.

“I think that as much as we live in a virtual world now, there is nothing better than this,” said Ben Johnson II, a consultant with McPherson & Jacobson. “You get to see expressions, you get to connect with people and you get to think of that person later. We were just talking to someone earlier, and hearing them be able to tell their story — not just on paper — it provides a different perspective about what might be open for them.”

He added: “I’ve got five people in mind right now for things I can think of that are either open or are coming open soon.”

Steve Humphrey, vice president of HYA, said appearing at the AASA Career Expo was particularly valuable at a time when there is a leadership shortage in K-12 education nationally.

“There are a lot of vacancies right now with people retiring and a lot of interim superintendent jobs that are being filled because boards haven’t had time to adapt to changes,” he said. “I think the number of candidates for jobs is not what it’s been historically. Instead of having 70 candidates for a job, they’re getting 35.”

That sounds like a challenge for school districts and school boards that fin d themselves with a current or likely vacancy at the top.

But it’s no doubt music to the ears of the aspiring applicants browsing the Career Expo and its future presence at AASA national conferences.

(Michael Klitzing is a freelance writer in San Diego and a reporter for Conference Daily Online).

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