The Fort Worth ISD school board is embarking on a process that most trustees have never done before: hiring a new superintendent.
It’s a decision that will affect this school district of roughly 76,000 students for years to come. Trustees plan to hire a third-party firm to conduct its superintendent search. They interviewed four firms March 29 and decided to wait on naming a group to lead the hunt for the district’s next top administrator.
Only two trustees — Tobi Jackson, the board president, and Jacinto Ramos — have gone through this process. Most recently they were part of the search for current Superintendent Kent Scribner, who is leaving the district Aug. 31. Ramos was board president at the time. Jackson, who was elected in 2010, was part of the 2011 search that ultimately hired Walter Dansby.
The four firms vying to search for Scribner’s successor are:
- Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Schaumburg, Illinois
- JG Consulting of Austin
- Mackenzie Eason of Fort Worth
- Thompson & Horton LLP, which has offices in Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin and Houston
Fort Worth ISD did not make the firms’ proposals immediately available to the public.
Whichever firm is picked will likely do a national search. All firms said diversity will be a factor in their searches, and all have placed people of color and women into top positions. Like many districts across the state, the majority of students in Fort Worth ISD are students of color.
The cost for the superintendent search will vary on the firm trustees pick. All plan to charge a base fee plus other costs, such as travel for consultants and superintendent candidates. Thompson & Horton’s fee is $50,000. The three other firms did not publicly disclose their fees at the meeting.
All of the firms have connections to Fort Worth ISD. Mackenzie Eason partner Darien George and consultant Laurie Williams George, who are married to each other, have children attending Fort Worth ISD schools. Moses has two grandchildren in Fort Worth ISD. JG Consulting has previously worked with the district. A team member of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates is a Paschal High School graduate.
All four firms stressed they will ask Fort Worth ISD residents, including students, what they want in their next superintendent. Community input would be gathered through in-person forums and meetings as well as online surveys.
Time is ticking as trustees weigh their options for how to proceed with their search. Scribner is scheduled to leave his position leading the state’s sixth largest school district on Aug. 31.
‘It will require some self-discipline’
Representatives from the four search firms told trustees finding a new superintendent and having that person start by Sept. 1 is possible. However, the process and timeline ultimately falls onto them.
“If you choose a timeline that brings a successful candidate to the position by Sept. 1, it will require some self-discipline on the part of the board to execute that timeline,” said Thompson & Horton’s Mike Moses, a former Texas education commissioner.
The JG Consulting timeline has a lone finalist named by July, meaning Scribner’s successor could start before his last day.
State law requires a 21-day waiting period between when a person is named the lone finalist for superintendent and their start date.
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates has a similar timeline. If chosen, the firm intends to have a lone finalist named at the end of June, and the new superintendent starting Aug. 15.
Openings, politics pose challenges
One of the biggest challenges facing the district is the number of superintendent openings. More than 70 spots are open across Texas, including Dallas ISD.
President and CEO of JG Consulting James Guerra said his firm will focus only on Fort Worth ISD. Currently, it is only doing one other search, which is nearing the end in San Antonio.
Thompson & Horton also told trustees finding a superintendent for Fort Worth ISD would be its top priority. The firm is selective in the number of searches it tackles every year. It most recently found a superintendent for neighboring Birdville ISD.
Building community trust in the process is something JG Consulting would work to overcome. Guerra said it is important the firm works with as many community groups as it can, but those groups may feel apprehensive at first. He said the firm wants to make sure it engages with the entire community so the candidates reflect residents’ input.
Nola Wellman, a senior associate at Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, said narrowing candidates to present to the board will be a challenge.
“You have to realize what a wonderful opportunity Fort Worth ISD would be for candidates, certainly in Texas, and the nation,” she said. “We believe there will be a great slate to bring forward for you, and narrowing that pool will be a challenge for us. And that’s a good challenge to have.”
Another factor to consider is the special election during the search. Wellman said that is a short-term issue and can be discussed in the planning. Moses was more direct in describing how the May 7 election will affect the search.
“If I were a superintendent looking at opportunities, I just would like to know that the board is set and the people that are in place that will be making the decision about the team we’re going to have and work together to try to improve performance,” Moses said.
Politics will continue to be an issue in education. That will pose its own challenges, especially in Texas, which is considered the epicenter of the battle over education and issues like critical race theory. George expects this to be an issue to stick around for the foreseeable future.
“From the books we carry to CRT — you name it there are politics that popped up that were not in education before,” he said.
Fort Worth a draw
A major plus for Fort Worth ISD is that it is in a city where people want to live and work, several firms told trustees. Fort Worth is the 12th-largest city in the nation and one of its fastest growing.
George touted Fort Worth’s strong civic community as a benefit for the district. Civic leaders want Fort Worth ISD to succeed, he said.
“That’s something you can sell to candidates. You don’t have that in a lot of places,” George said.
Challenges in a school district can be just as attractive as accomplishments to candidates, said Rick Berry, a senior associate at Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. The steps the board has taken to follow Lone Star Governance and its commitment to improving student outcomes for all students are attractive qualities for a candidate, said Berry, a Paschal High School graduate.
Fort Worth ISD also has a strong foundation for a new superintendent, George said. Many important building blocks, he said, are in place, such as bonds aimed at improving campuses, the teacher incentive allotment, the rethinking of its math and reading curriculum and schools of choice.
Alton Frailey, JG Consulting’s search officer, said the quality of life in Fort Worth is a huge benefit for the district.
“This is a great community, so certainly you’re recognized as a place that’s becoming more attractive,” Frailey said. “There are challenges everywhere, but the truth is this is a great community. The school district has been innovative, tried a lot of different things, you’ve addressed your challenges and I think any that still remain can still be addressed with the right team.”
Thompson & Horton agreed. Fort Worth’s vibes should attract rising stars in education to Cowtown, Moses said. However, the former education commissioner added a caveat.
“That doesn’t mean the search will be easy,” he said.
Disclosure: Laurie Williams George is a member of the Fort Worth Report’s Reader Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her a firstname.lastname@example.org.