Why School Districts Keep Superintendent Searches Secret

Marion Herbert's picture
Monday, July 2, 2012

On a single March night in DuPage County (Ill.), one superintendent arrived — and another announced his departure — in a cloud of secrecy at two of the state's largest school districts.

When the dust settled, residents and taxpayers in both Glenbard High School District 87 and Naperville Unit District 203 were left scratching their heads about what exactly had happened and why. And, in what has become accepted fashion in many Illinois school districts, neither their elected representatives nor their appointed administrators seemed to feel any obligation to tell them.

The two districts provide prime examples of the secrecy surrounding the comings and goings of many top school administrators who oversee the education of thousands of children and millions of dollars in local tax money.

Advocates for transparency in government say the selection of school superintendents should be handled as openly as possible, giving the community a chance to provide input in the selection process and an opportunity to meet and vet the finalists before the school board makes its final decision.

Many school officials, though, argue such so-called “sunshine” requirements ultimately would damage their ability to recruit and perhaps keep the best qualified people.

Glenbard District 87

On March 19, school board President Rich Heim read from a prepared statement: After a seven-month closed-door search, the Glenbard school board had made its pick: David Larson. Heim read aloud a brief biography of the new superintendent to the 10 or so audience members who gathered in the school's cafeteria.

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