The D21 school board in a 4-1 vote Thursday directed staff to enter into a contract with a national executive search firm to help the board find a new superintendent.

Staff was directed to issue a notice of intent to award the contract to Omaha-based McPherson and Jacobson, LLC, starting a 72-hour protest period where the other two candidates can object.

McPherson and Jacobson presenters Dr. Steve Lowder of Vancouver and Dr. Nathan McCann of Ridgefield, Wash. described the process of gathering public input on what the North Wasco County School District 21 wants in a superintendent, then widely advertising the post and vetting applicants. Their cost is $13,750.

Lowder and McCann said The Dalles is desirably located in the Gorge, and is close to Portland. McCann called D21 “a destination district” for candidates not looking for a large school district. “This is a tough place to beat,” he said. “People will be very excited about the opportunity to live here.”

He added, “Do not undersell the type of people you can attract. This is a desirable district.”

Lowder said student achievement is tied to superintendent retention and the consistency that brings. He said 75 percent of superintendents recruited by his company are still at the same job after five years, and over half are still on the job after 10. Nearly half are still there after 15 years.

The job opening will be posted on the company’s website,, which averages over 150,000 hits per month.

Lowder said he would emphasize to applicants the desirability of the town and the district’s “great graduation rate. You have a graduation rate of 87 percent. That’s awesome, that’s terrific. You’ve got a lot of positive going for you.”

They pledged that if a superintendent leaves within two years, they will do the selection process again, at cost.

They described a transparent process where the public gets to help form the list of desired qualities in a superintendent and also gets to meet the finalists.

Board member Dawn Rasmussen said the company has placed over 725 superintendents in districts. “They know what they’re doing.”

Board Vice Chair Jose Aparicio said the company took the time to read board meeting minutes and a recent communications survey the district did, “which shows their level of professionalism.”

McCann said they try to “get as many fingerprints on the process as possible,” including inviting “contrarians,” so nobody tries to sabotage the new superintendent once they arrive because they felt left out of the process.

An online survey is also done to gather feedback.

The majority of candidates for a position are usually from within the state, but the reason for looking nationally, McCann said, is that there may be people who were originally from here and want to move back.

Once the community is canvassed, the company produces a stakeholder report listing what is important in a superintendent.

Lowder said McPherson and Jacobson do a “3D” reference check, in which they ask references to suggest other references, and so on, to reach beyond those provided by the applicant. They go a minimum of three people removed from the primary reference.

The company recommends a public process with finalists, including an all-day session for each candidate where they meet various groups—including administrators, teachers, classified staff and community members—that then give their feedback to the board.

Also recommended is that board members visit the finalist’s district as a final vetting to “validate things.”

Lowder said they tell candidates if they “have something undesirable in their background that will embarrass the board, I need to know.”

They ask candidates if they’ve ever been asked to leave a job, or have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Lowder said, “They need to expose that stuff to us—and people have.”

They also do financial checks, criminal history checks and an internet search.

Once a candidate is selected by the board, the company helps create goals for the new superintendent for the first year, so their objectives are clear.

The job announcement will go out just before the winter holidays, semi-finalists will be vetted by late February, finalists by late March, and the new superintendent will be picked in April.

McCann said he would emphasize the strong teacher voice in the community, which was highlighted by a recent audit of the district that found people overwhelmingly preferred to get information about the district from teachers.

He said superintendents like a strong teacher voice, since it can help with policy and budgeting.

Not selected by the board were Hank Harris and a joint proposal by Next Up Leadership and the Oregon School Boards Association.

Board members said Harris was the most expensive of the three, at $21,600, and they worried that, as essentially a solo practitioner, he would not have time to devote to the search. They also noted that while he said he was detail-oriented, the cover of his proposal paper got the name of the district wrong.

Board members didn’t like that Next Up Leadership/OSBA indicated that if they learned negative information about a candidate, they would not disclose it to the board, but would direct the board on who to call.

Rasmussen, Aparicio, Rebecca Thistlethwaite and David Jones voted for McPherson, and board Chair John Nelson voted against. Board member Michael Sullivan missed the first presenter and was unable to vote.

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