AURORA | Training in public education, experience in a large school district and a proven track record with diversity and inclusion were some of the top characteristics community members said they wanted the new superintendent of Aurora Public Schools to have, according to the results of a report released yesterday.
At Tuesday night’s board meeting, the school board was presented with the results of a “candidate profile” compiled by HYA, the firm APS contracted to search for its next superintendent. The final report is now available on the district’s website.
HYA held a series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews over the past month to gather feedback on what people want from the district’s next leader, along with sending out an online survey. A total of 500 people participated in the focus groups and personal interviews, and 1,884 people completed the online survey. Participants included students, parents, teachers and APS staff.
Scott Siegfried, one of the HYA associates leading the search, said the firm asked people to describe APS’s greatest strengths, biggest challenges and the qualities they want in a new leader. The four main traits mentioned by people are:
– Demonstrated strength and skills in diversity, equity and inclusion
– Demonstrated ability to provide effective leadership to a large school district
-Demonstrated strengths and skills in providing physically and psychologically safe schools
-Someone with experience and faith in public schools
Overwhelmingly, Siegfried said people cite the district’s diversity as one of its main strengths, along with its supportive community, dedicated teachers and staff and opportunities for students.
On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges people cited was the district’s ability to effectively meet the needs of its diverse student population. Other challenges include the impact of trauma, poverty and language barriers, and physical and psychological safety in schools. HYA held focus groups with students at seven APS high schools, and Siegfried said students specifically cited violence and drug problems in the schools.
On the personnel side, Siegfried said a significant issue was a lack of trust across the organization, although the firm was unable to pinpoint a clear cause.
“Regardless, the impact is real and permeates the culture of the district,” the report said. “Trust appears to have been undermined by communication struggles, competing visions and the department’s siled operation, creating an atmosphere of competition rather than cooperation.”
Speaking to staff in focus groups, Siegfried said issues surrounding school closings as part of the APS Blueprint have been raised repeatedly and may be a driving factor.
“It was the ‘how’ of things, not so much the what, but how things happened at their discretion,” he said.
The board’s own ability to work together was also listed as one of the district’s top five challenges.
“There are questions in the community around you the week and the sense that sometimes you’re divisive with each other and with the leadership,” Siegfried said.
Applications for the position close on Friday. So far, Siegfried said 24 people have started or finished applying.
In an earlier interview with SentinelHYA vice president Mike Ritchie said the firm typically receives 20 to 50 applicants per search.
Siegfried said APS currently has a strong applicant pool.
“There are some people who would be great for Aurora,” he said.
Siegfried said the firm will propose a pool of six to eight final candidates based on the candidate’s profile, who will then make a presentation to the board in closed session at a March 20 meeting. The board is scheduled to publicly announce the final candidates on March 28, who will visit the district in person and have final interviews in April.
Ritchie said they aim for boards to select three finalists, but sometimes it’s two or four instead.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Siegfried suggested shifting the timeline for when HYA provides its list of finalists to the board to give applicants more time to prepare before presenting and more time for the board to review their applications. The board is now scheduled to meet with the HYA on March 14 in closed session to present the list.