Ten firms in the business of conducting executive-level searches in education are expected to keep plenty busy at the superintendent job fair at the 2022 AASA National Conference on Education.
The employment event takes place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18, in Room 208 of the Music City Center in Nashville.
The job fair, an annual ritual, is expected to play a more urgent role than ever with so many more superintendents than usual — one veteran search firm head called the number “unprecedented” — having already announced plans to retire or leave for non-school district posts at the end of the school year.
The roster of participating search firms includes the largest national companies involved in superintendent searches, including Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, as well as state school boards associations from Alabama, Illinois and Texas. Also on hand will be the National Affiliation of Superintendent Searchers, an organization of the executive search arms of state school boards associations.
The employment event is the centerpiece of Job Central, a series of conference sessions relating to landing a superintendency and working effectively with school boards.
The challenge of matching qualified candidates with top leadership posts for the search firms is substantial, says Butch Felkner, director of executive search services with the Texas Association of School Boards. “Aspiring superintendents need to fully understand district needs and school board members’ goals/objectives. Superintendents need to gain as much knowledge in the areas of school finance, successful curriculum programs and overall leadership,” he adds.
While at the AASA conference, the Kansas Association of School Boards will be promoting 43 superintendent openings among the 286 school districts in the state. Neighboring state Missouri had 38 superintendent openings as of the end of January. Of the 19 posts filled in recent months, six will be first-year superintendents.
The country’s largest superintendent search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea, will be handling about 30 superintendent vacancies in Nashville. The firm’s website, which lists competitors' job openings, as of early February, carried information about nearly 500 openings (https://hyasearch.com/browse-jobs/). They ranged in size from the 57-student district in Ottawa, Ill., and the 100-student district in Wolfeboro Falls, N.H., to the 200,000-student Philadelphia, Pa., schools. Other large-enrollment vacancies exist in Broward County, Fla. (261,000 students), Montgomery County, Md. (163,000), San Diego, Calif. (102,300), Lee County, Fla. (95,000), Anne Arundel County, Md. (80,000), Washoe County, Nev. (62,200), Knoxville, Tenn. (60,300), El Paso, Texas (55,000), San Francisco, Calif. (54,000), Lewisville, Texas (52,000) and Seattle, Wash. (52,000).
Glenn “Max” McGee, HYA’s president, provided insights about the current state of superintendent hiring in a brief interview conducted via e-mail prior to the AASA conference.
Would you say AASA’s job fair is playing a significant purpose in 2022 given the current state of the superintendency?
McGee: Yes, this job fair is more significant than ever given the unprecedented number of vacancies. It presents both sitting and aspiring superintendents with the opportunity to talk face to face with consultants on current vacancies that would be a good fit for them as well as for consultants to learn about their aspirations for their career trajectories. The job fair also gives us a great opportunity to recruit for searches we are facilitating across the country.
Based on the number of supe vacancies your firm currently is handling, how busy do you expect to be at the AASA conference?
McGee: We expect to fill every slot during the job fair. Due to the demand, we may have to have 20-minute sessions instead of our usual 30-minute ones, but we want to be sure the time with each individual is high quality, personalized time so we can get to know each other.
How does your firm use its presence at AASA’s national conference to address school boards’ leadership needs?
McGee: For HYA, it is a true learning experience. We learn about individual candidates' aspirations as well as their professional qualifications and personal attributes. We learn about the challenges they see in their current position and about how they are handling them. Most importantly, we learn the why behind our sessions. This learning helps us match potential candidates to openings that best suit them.
Are you expecting a greater challenge in attracting qualified candidates for the many vacancies this year?
McGee: The greatest challenge is attracting current superintendents. Those who are navigating COVID successfully, managing increasingly divisive local and national politics well, dealing with the ever-increasing staff shortages and maintaining the mental health of their students, staffs, boards and themselves are wisely staying put. Those who are leaving or being chased out — often through no fault of their own — due to problems addressing one of those issues (or others) are really having a tough time due to the ubiquitousness of adverse social media. However, the current vacancies are terrific opportunities for aspiring superintendents and internal candidates who are eager to lead and serve.
(Jay Goldman is editor of Conference Daily Online and editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine.)