My View

The Function and Dysfunction of Hiring
By Yaw Obeng/School Administrator, January 2017

Hiring and developing qualified school leaders is both an art and a science, and it’s essential to building a comprehensive succession plan for the school district. Yet the hiring process can go terribly wrong for various reasons.
As a superintendent in Canada and now the United States, I have been part of hiring processes for years. Some were so dysfunctional the results were disastrous.

Once, while working in a senior administration position, I was part of a process in which the person in charge randomly reduced the application stack by 50 percent and then picked every other applicant for an interview. As a result, one candidate for a position supervising youth programs had a criminal record. In another process, one interviewer was discovered to be a candidate for the position and was married to a community member who had been asked to participate in the hiring decision.

School system leaders have a duty to establish sound hiring practices that address potentially tricky areas.

Valuing Input
In most communities, stakeholders want some input regarding the selection of district and school leaders. There certainly is value in this feedback. However, district personnel must be careful not to engage stakeholders in the process simply for the sake of being able to say, “We asked you.”

Stakeholders want meaningful involvement. If the strategies for gathering feedback do not produce results that support stakeholder desires at least to some extent, they will claim their input was not considered or valued.

In Burlington, Vt., the administrative hiring process includes students (where appropriate), school board members, faculty/staff members and PTO/parent groups. When hiring a new principal, we ask stakeholders questions regarding school needs, desired leadership characteristics, critical knowledge and skills, and factors necessary to achieve success in that school.

Each stakeholder group submits an administrator profile form that reflects the group’s consensus regarding the competencies and attributes that an individual will need to be successful in a particular school environment. The information is used when we develop the profile for the post.

Experienced Reviewers
Dysfunctional processes lack clear indicators in the application, pre-screening, interview and post-interview stages.

In Burlington, the human resource department’s thorough screening ensures only highly qualified candidates advance to the next level. Aware that screening can be time-consuming and subjective, we established an electronic screening protocol that assesses applicants specifically for the required indicators for the position, such as identified competencies and experiences.

You won’t get a realistic analysis of candidates by including individuals in the process who are not familiar with the work content or alignment of the competencies. The selection team should include practitioners with a demonstrated degree of success in the role being filled.

In Burlington, when hiring a principal, the review and selection team includes the superintendent, senior director of human resources, senior director of curriculum and instruction and two experienced principals.

As we plan for the immediate and long-term leadership needs in our district, we must identify, prepare and select leaders who demonstrate the values and skills that support the organization as a whole. That requires a comprehensive, well-planned, functional hiring process.

Yaw Obeng is superintendent of the Burlington School District in Burlington, Vt. E-mail: