How Unit 5 Plans To Find A New Superintendent By January | WGLT

How Unit 5 Plans To Find A New Superintendent By January

Oct 3, 2019

The Unit 5 school board has developed a schedule to announce its new superintendent by the end of January. The confidential search will open Monday and close Nov. 29.

Current Superintendent Mark Daniel's contract is up at the end of this school year.

Diane Robertson is a firm partner with School Exec Connect, the search firm hired to assist in finding Daniel’s replacement. The school board met Wednesday to discuss the search process.

Robertson said confidential searches bring out more candidates.

“Most candidates who are going to apply are sitting superintendents or assistant superintendents and they have a community that they're working for,” Robertson said. “And if their candidacy gets out into the public, sometimes it can damage the relationship that they have in their current situation”

Robertson and her associate, Jill Hawk, said all but three search committees they facilitated were done confidentially. She said making the search confidential “casts a wide net.”

Candidates applying internally from Unit 5 will undergo the same process as external candidates which includes applying, a vetting by School Exec Connect, and two rounds of interviews.

Community Survey

Robertson said the search process includes a community survey that will ask not only about the district’s strengths, but also, “What challenges there are in the community, what barriers there are that would have to be overcome by the new superintendent, what skills and characteristics I'd like to see in the new superintendent, and then what priorities the new superintendent would need to focus on in their first year on the job.”

The online survey will open to anyone in the district starting Oct. 14 and closes Oct. 25. The district will make accommodations for parents and stakeholders who do not have internet or computer access to take the survey at their district office or at parent-teacher night on Oct. 25.

The survey will be conducted by School Exec Connect. Robertson said results will not be shown to the district until her team has created a profile from the responses. She said that profile will also be made available for public access on the school board’s website.

Unit 5 said they plan to pay extra for Spanish and French versions.

Focus Groups and Forums

The district’s head of communications, Dayna Brown, was appointed by the board as liaison between Unit 5 and School Exec Connect. In that role she will reach out to stakeholder groups identified by the board Wednesday and ask those groups to elect members to serve in focus groups.

The focus groups will include parents, Unit 5 administrators and teachers, students, local business people, residents within the district, and more.

In addition to the focus groups, there will be two open forums: one for community members and one for Unit 5 staff. Robertson said she and Hawk will use the same list of questions in both the focus groups and the open forums.

Robertson stressed that board members should not attend the open forum so that community members feel they can speak freely. The board agreed.

Robertson said the open forums provide an opportunity for residents who may not have been asked to be on a focus group to also speak their mind about what they want in a new superintendent and problem areas that may need attention within the district.

Using those three platforms—the survey, focus groups, and forums—Robertson said her team will create a Unit 5 profile.

She said School Exec Connect uses that profile and the desires voiced by the district board to narrow down the pool of applicants to between five and seven candidates. Those candidates will present for interviews in December.


Interviews will be conducted by three groups: a community member/parent group, a Unit 5 staff group, and the Unit 5 school board. The first two groups will provide feedback—not a recommendation—to the school board, who will then narrow the pool down to three candidates.

Final interviews will be the week before Christmas. The same three groups will interview the candidates for a second time and the school board will make a decision on Dec. 19.

The candidate will be announced in January.

School Board President Barry Hitchins said the ideal date to announce the candidate and approve their contract will be Jan. 8, but it could be any date before the end of the month depending on the timeline of contract negotiations.

Developing A Contract

A contract will be developed for the final candidate after School Exec Connect conducts a comparison study with various Illinois school districts. Robertson said districts identified as similar to Unit 5 in size for use in the study include Wheaton, Palatine, and Arlington Heights.

The school board also requested that School Exec Connect include Naperville and Bloomington’s District 87 in the comparison.

Information pooled through that study by School Exec Connect will help identify a competitive superintendent salary. The Unit 5 board also asked the data include information on what each district’s property tax rate is.


  • 10/7 - Search opens
  • 10/14 - online community survey opens
  • 10/21-23 - Focus groups meet
  • 10/25 - online community survey closes
  • 10/30 - Special meeting of the Board of Education to hear School Exec Connect’s presentation of the district profile. This meeting will be open to the public.
  • 11/29 - Search closes, applications no longer accepted after this date.
  • 12/9 - School Exec Connect presents slate of five to seven candidates to the Board of Education in a closed meeting.
  • 12/13-14 - first round of interviews
  • 12/16-17, 19 - finalist interviews
  • 12/19 - final deliberations, select a candidate, begin contract negotiations
  • 1/8 (or by end of January) - announce the next superintendent and approve the contract

District Desires

The district board had a long discussion over the importance of a future superintendent living within the district. Board President Hitchins said he did not want someone commuting from outside of the district. He said that creates a barrier between the superintendent and the community and schools.

However, Robertson and Hawk stressed that stating “Must live within Unit 5/McLean County” on the application could deter quality candidates.

After much discussion, the board agreed to state that living within the district is “preferred” and to stress the desire for the superintendent to live local when it comes time for interviews in December.

The board also stated a desire for a superintendent with a focus on diversity and said they want a candidate who can effectively communicate with and advocate for all student groups in an inclusive manner.

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