Curating a Search Committee for Head of School Searches

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A thoughtfully curated search committee is an important driver in a successful Head of School search. I’ve been asked many times to give advice on how to build a search committee—questions like what an ideal number of team members might be; which constituencies should be represented; how to welcome differing points of view; how to gauge the time commitment for members; and—perhaps most importantly—how to create a common spirit that ensures a committee will work together with enthusiasm, efficiency, and honesty.

These are crucial questions to consider as a school launches a search for a Head of School—so important, in fact, that we have seen ill-conceived search committees stall or derail the search process and lose candidates who should have been top runners.

Schools are communities with many stakeholders, including faculty and staff, administrators, parents, students, alumni, and Board members, all of whom have a desire to see strong leadership and be part of the conversation about leadership change. To honor these diverse stakeholders, a search committee must act not only as evaluator, recruiter, and recommender but also as a vehicle for reassurance and engagement within the school community.

There are many elements to consider as you build a search committee, and in doing so, each school has to stay true to its culture.

However, here are six must-dos when considering your search committee:

  1. Decide on a number that will allow for vigorous conversation and a free-flowing exchange of ideas. More than 10 members makes for tricky scheduling and complicates the deep critical conversation essential for evaluating candidates.
  2. Make sure the majority of search committee members are Board members. It is the Board’s responsibility to hire (and fire) a Head of School, so Board voices are paramount.
  3. Decide if there will be faculty representation. If the answer is yes, choose a faculty member who is well-respected and able to hold confidentialities. A faculty member on the search committee will face constant inquiries from colleagues, so this person should have a clear script for communicating and for keeping confidentiality.
  4. Make sure there is parent representation. Often, a Board member who is also a parent can play a key dual role. A trusted officer of the Parent Association can be a good choice as well.
  5. Create a committee that reflects the diversity of your community. A diverse search committee helps ensure a comprehensive and inclusive approach to decision making, builds trust in the selection process, and helps to reduce bias in interviewing.
  6. Choose members who are able to balance competing interests: the need to evaluate honestly, the need to “sell the opportunity” to strong candidates, the ability to hear differing points of view, the ability to reach consensus (sometimes in the face of widely varying perspectives), and the ability to commit ample time to this important process.

They say the devil is in the details. In the case of search committees, attending to the details can eliminate problems well before they arise, making it one of the most important first steps in a successful search. A search committee does more than recommend a candidate. At its worst, it can contribute to a failed search; at its best, it can energize and affirm a community and pave the way to a school’s bright future.

Laura Hansen, Senior Talent Consultant

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