Board or Search Chair
Helpful hints as you begin to plan for a Head of School search:
1. You can begin the process by reaching out to search firms and asking questions. Most of us like to talk school and leadership searches and will offer advice. (You can find a list of search firms at NAIS: National Association of Independent Schools).
2. It is typical for schools to request proposals from multiple firms. You will gain a great initial sense of the firms' approaches through conversations, website perusal, and written proposals. You do not need to prepare a RFP in order to ask for this information.
3. After reviewing materials for multiple firms, you will likely be able to narrow your focus. Consider calling some references at this stage and then invite a few firms to meet with you. Be clear that you want to meet with the firm representative who would be conducting the search--that individual, or team, will be an ambassador for your school. While you are hiring a firm, it is important that you feel confident in the search consultant who will be managing the work on behalf of the firm. Firms are responsible for their travel expenses at this stage.
4. Absolutely do reference checking. You need to gain a full understanding of the consultant's strengths and style--not simply the firm. Ask the references if there are any questions they wished they had asked of the consultants before making their search consultant choice. You don't always know what you need to know.
5. If you haven't already done so, wait on constituting the full search committee. The search consultant can be very helpful in offering advice on who should (and shouldn't) be on the committee. The right committee is instrumental to the success of your search.
Why hire a search firm?
There is a great deal of work involved in managing a search well. If you have a smart and organized volunteer who can dedicate many hours to this task, maybe you can manage without a consultant. However, good search consultants have strong networks in the industry and know how to recruit candidates--reaching out to interesting individuals who are not even looking. Can your great volunteer actively recruit for the position?
When a school manages a search itself, it raises questions for potential candidates about the school's financial resources and the professionalism of the Board. If you go this route, consider how you will combat those concerns in the marketing of the position.
The right consultants will not only manage much of the workload and find great candidates, they will offer invaluable guidance throughout the process and through the leadership transition. They can help you assess the strengths and experiences needed for your school's needs, and their network should help you gain authentic reference information on your target candidates. They can offer support through the transition and help you communicate effectively with your stakeholders.
Independent school searches for new Heads of School most often publically launch 15+ months prior to the desired appointment date: for example, April 2017 for a July 2018 appointment. There are firms that believe that a September or October search launch (10+ months ahead) is "too late," but there are firms that recognize a successful search can begin then and will work with you if that is your timeline.