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Public input shapes leadership profile for San Dieguito’s next superintendent

By next week, the San Dieguito Union High School District may have a new superintendent. Candidates had until Oct. 4 to apply and the district received 18 completed applications representing four states including California, according to James Guerra, president and CEO of the search firm JG Consultants. In 2018, the district had over 40 candidates apply for the post.

The board is expected to hold its first round of interviews Oct. 8-10 with the finalist selected by Oct. 14.

SDUHSD trustees meet on Sept. 30.
(Karen Billing)

San Dieguito board President Mo Muir said she was confident that JG’s search would find them an “amazing” new superintendent.

Some community members have expressed their concerns about what they feel is a rushed timeline, the transparency of the selection process, and that the decision will be made before the Area 5 trustee election on Nov 2.

At a special board meeting on Sept. 30, Guerra presented his report reflecting the characteristics that staff, parents, community members and students were looking for in their next leader. The leadership profile was developed following a series of public input sessions held from Sept. 20-28.

“The stakeholder meetings were very rich and robust,” Guerra said.

In total, JG Consulting facilitated over 48 stakeholder meetings and virtual town halls and over 700 people responded to an online survey. Following a community complaint about access, the district added a Spanish-speaking forum and additionally provided the survey in Spanish.

The community is much more engaged than during the last superintendent search in 2018 where meetings were very lightly attended and 241 participated in an online survey.

Throughout the public input process, common objectives emerged including serving the academic needs of all students, community engagement with “effective” and “exceptional” communication, a leader who can collaborate with the school board and one who supports diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to JG’s report, the board expressed that they were looking for a professional leader who is forward-thinking with a proven track record for academic success for all students and an effective communicator who is focused on community inclusion.

District staff said they wanted a leader who is approachable, preferring someone who has been an educator or has superintendent experience. They said they wanted a “servant leader” and a superintendent who is contemplative, patient, reflective, honest and genuine.

Christina Kishimoto, senior search consultant with JG, explained that servant leadership is about being focused on the people you serve.

“This is a people-oriented organization, you’re serving kids, you’re managing a tremendous staff, you’re responsive to parents and community so all of that is about really understanding and putting the people you lead and serve at the core of your work,” Kishimoto said.

Community members said they were looking for a leader who is willing and capable of making difficult decisions and someone who will improve parental involvement and regularly visit schools and network with students.

Students also participated in the meetings—La Costa Canyon student Shane Baum, his brother Andrew and other students attended two of the town halls to support the teachers and represent students.

“JG Consulting needs to know that the San Dieguito district, in itself, has become an extremely divisive system,” said Shane. “We need a superintendent with experience in public school education and someone willing and able to unify the community, support our staff, and, most importantly, serve the students, especially the marginalized and underrepresented.”

According to JG’s report, students want an enthusiastic, active and vibrant leader who supports and encourages students to be involved, knows how to work with the board and facilitate productive meetings, someone who is passionate about education and committed to creating a safe environment where all people feel supported, heard and respected.

“We need a superintendent that not only values and respects teacher voices, but also truly cares and appreciates student voices,” said Torrey Pines student Sofia Serrano. “We need a superintendent that has everyone’s best intentions in mind and guides the community and schools to greatness.”

Looking over the report at the Sept. 30 meeting, SDUHSD Trustee Michael Allman said it stood out to him that students preferred a superintendent who has education, administrative and managerial experience: “I’m very surprised that would be something that students would say,” he said.

Pat Linares, JG senior search consultant, confirmed that the wording came straight from high school students she met with. Trustee Katrina Young followed up and said she was not surprised that the students said that, as San Dieguito has “extraordinary students who truly are invested in our district.”

Allman has said he did not want to exclude a non-traditional candidate, one without an education background such as a professional or administrator with executive-level leadership experience who could serve the district well.

San Dieguito has gone the non-traditional route in the past—Eric Dill had no educational experience but had worked with the district for over 15 years in the business services department. Muir, the only current board member who was on the board at the time, voted against his appointment.

After two years, Dill left for a new position in Santa Clara and was replaced by Robert Haley following a nation-wide search.


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