Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said she will name a new D.C. Public Schools chancellor by mid-October, an unusually short timetable that has the teachers union concerned that the mayor is rushing the national search or has already picked a successor.
When Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced in June that she would be stepping down in October after five years at the helm of the school system, Bowser tapped the system’s chief of schools, John Davis, to serve as interim chancellor starting Oct. 1.
Bowser hired a search firm and appointed a committee to receive input from the community and recommend finalists. So her announcement that she would name a new chancellor next month has surprised some observers.
National searches for urban school districts typically take more than six months, according to several national organizations that track superintendent and chancellor appointments.
The Council of the Great City Schools, an organization that represents the country’s largest school systems, including the District’s, said superintendent and chancellor searches typically last from six to nine months.
“It does seem to be very quick. It would almost suggest that they already have someone in mind,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, who is a former superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
At a community forum this week with Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles, who is leading the search, the teachers union distributed a flier with a banner reading in bold letters, “Don’t rush the search.”
“With great confidence, I can say [the mayor] does not have somebody in mind,” Niles said.
Although the search timeline is “aggressive,” Niles said, she argued that a three-month window is “not unheard of for senior positions.”
Boston Public Schools, Maryland’s Montgomery County and Minneapolis Public Schools recently spent more than a year searching for their new leaders.
The Los Angeles Unified School District spent five months scouring the country for a new superintendent before ultimately settling on an internal candidate in January.
Those schools districts all have boards with multiple elected members who have to meet in public to perform their functions, whether voting on a contract for a search firm or publicly interviewing job finalists.
That is why those searches can last more than six months, Domenech said.
Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said that although this search has been “the most inclusive,” she and other teachers are concerned about its aggressive timeline.
Niles said the mayor’s office has been working to find a replacement since Henderson announced that she was stepping down.
A 17-member committee was formed to give the mayor recommendations guided by community input. The group is hosting three community forums across the city.
Shaun Johnson is a kindergarten teacher at Malcolm X Elementary School and attended the first forum.
He and about 100 educators, parents and community leaders filled out forms that asked about the biggest issues facing the school district, which qualities the next leader should possess and whether the district is heading in the right direction.
Johnson said he thinks the school district needs to make drastic changes if it wants to close the persistent achievement gap between poor and affluent students.
Niles said she and the committee will convene after the final community forum, on Sept. 14, to review the feedback and relay it to the mayor.
The teachers union has raised questions about the search firm that Bowser hired to conduct the search. This is the first time that the firm, Boyden Global, is conducting a chancellor or superintendent search for a school district, union officials said.
The company would not provide The Washington Post with names of school districts where it has helped to place district leaders. Instead, in a statement, the company said it has done “some search work” for schools districts as well as a “variety of K-12 education-related entities.”
“More importantly, Boyden has a reputation for finding the right leaders who have lasting impact in public sector roles, regardless of their backgrounds,” said Dan Margolis, a company spokesman.
The firm is to receive 30 percent of one year of the next chancellor’s salary, according to its contract with the city. Henderson currently earns about $300,000 annually, which would amount to about $100,000 for Boyden. Under its contract, Boyden can receive up to $250,000 for its services.
Boyden was most recently hired by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to fill several senior positions in that organization.