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posted: 7/3/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Shine a light on school chief searches

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Susan Hill has the right idea. So does Connie McElyea. And we'd like to see their suburban counterparts follow their lead.

Hill is the board president of the Burlington Public Schools in Michigan. It's the district from which the new superintendent in Glenbard High School District 87 hails. He was hired in the DuPage County district after a closed-door session and secretive search for candidates. That's not how they do it in his old district.

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"It's a pain in the neck from a board member point of view; we might like to do (searches) in closed session," Hill told the Daily Herald's Christopher Placek. "But it's in the community members' best interest to do it in public. The taxpayers are the CEO."

How refreshing.

Michigan and Florida are examples where school boards are required to do searches in the open. They're called sunshine states. We'd like to see that kind of sunshine in Illinois. But no district has to wait for the legislature to make them do it. Take, for example, the Moline district in western Illinois, where McElyea is the board president.

"Very few districts do it like what we did," she said, explaining how five finalists for the superintendent's job participated in public forums and in lunches with students as part of a daylong tour of the district. "We did it because of the fact we wanted it to be as transparent as we could. We felt we needed the public's and staff's buy-in for who we select."

A novel approach. There's much talk these days about transparency. Moline's a district that does more than talk about it. And we believe a district that provides transparency when hiring the superintendent will get more transparency from that superintendent after he or she is hired.

Supporters of closed searches say keeping names confidential allows for more candidates to apply and leads to a better candidate pool. They claim that potential candidates won't apply if their names are to become public. We think the jobs at suburban school districts are some of the best in the country and certainly pay very well. Good candidates will apply no matter the rigors of the process. We find it interesting that the new District 87 superintendent -- judged the best candidate by that school board -- comes from a district that has a transparent search policy.

One of the largest districts in the state -- Naperville Unit District 203 -- will be searching for a permanent replacement for Mark Mitrovich this coming year. An interim superintendent started on Monday. Here is an opportunity for the Naperville school board to be leaders in the state on transparency by announcing finalists for this position prior to a selection. Considering questions raised with the hiring of Mitrovich three years ago, more openness this time around would help ensure a smooth transition and get the new hire off on the right foot.

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