Outreach will start this month in San Dieguito’s superintendent search

San Dieguito Union High School District administration building.
San Dieguito Union High School District administration building.
(Karen Billing)

“It’s hunting season for superintendents right now.”

So said Dr. Gary Rutherford, a member of the San Dieguito Union High School District’s superintendent search team. San Dieguito’s hunt for its next new leader is underway and the board met on Feb. 23 to discuss the timeline and process for the coming months.

Education Support Services Group (ESS) will spend much of March and April gathering public input through stakeholder focus groups, an online survey and an open town hall forum. Candidate interviews are proposed to occur at the end of April and once the board approves a finalist, the new superintendent could be named and approved at the board’s regular meeting on May 17.

“I would hope at the end of the process every voice in the community felt invited and welcomed to have some opportunity, through the survey or a town hall, to come and give their voice,” said board President Rigma Viskanta.

Input received from the public will help craft the leadership profile, the set of qualities, skills and and attributes of the district’s ideal superintendent. ESS consultants Suzette Lovely and Rutherford will look for themes and trends that develop across the district and report back to the board.

Trustee Michael Allman said that the district just went through the search process in 2021 and he didn’t find the open forums to be very productive. Rutherford said he agreed with Allman that some responses are predictable but there’s always something unique that comes out of the process: “They’re not perfunctory, they’re not boilerplate,” Rutherford said. “Our goal in March when we present the leadership profile is that the stakeholders recognize themselves.”

At the meeting, the board heard several public comments requesting the formation of a superintendent search advisory committee, a proposal that was supported by Trustees Phan Anderson and Allman. It was the first time the board discussed such an option—the board unanimously approved issuing a request for proposals for a search firm in December. The district received seven proposals from superintendent search firms and interviewed three before selecting ESS in February in a 3-2 vote with Allman and Anderson opposed.

The involvement of citizens in the hiring process was notably used by San Diego Unified in 2021.

Rather than hire a professional search firm, San Diego Unified opted to use a 46-member search advisory committee. Throughout a year-long process, the advisory committee made up of parents and representatives from local organizations vetted candidate applications and picked 10 semifinalists for the board.

In neighboring Rancho Santa Fe School District, the firm of McPherson and Jacobson employed the use of a stakeholder panel in its ongoing superintendent search. In the one-school district, the panel included three teachers, two administrative team members, the RSF Foundation chair, former superintendent/district consultant and five community members appointed by individual board members. The panel conducted a highly structured interview of the candidates and did not make any hiring recommendations to the board.

The district held its first round of interviews on Jan 27 and no selection has been made. McPherson and Jacobson did apply to run San Dieguito’s search but their proposal did not include the use of a stakeholder panel.

“I know that we’re getting the services of ESS but it would be good to involve the community…because the district is so unique,” Anderson said. “It’s a tough thing to do, we need all the help we can get.”

She said it would be a shame if the board did not use members of the educated community they have to help them make a decision.

Allman said as they recently went through a search process the input they will receive is likely to be very similar: “I think what we’re missing is whether or not the community has an opportunity to select the candidate,” Allman said.

In the board’s discussions, Viskanta questioned what criteria they would use to appoint committee members that would represent the diverse community—she said it actually might be more limiting than inclusive. The work would also be redundant to the $25,800 they are paying ESS to complete the search.

Clerk Katrina Young noted that they definitely want to value parent, student and community voices and what they hear will be strongly considered as they look to hire a superintendent that meets everyone’s needs.

Vice President Jane Lea Smith said what the speakers said that day resonated with her: the desires for the board to provide a clear channel for the public to express views, to put students first and to repair some of the mistrust built in the last time around. She had the same hope that this board will do better.

“We’re the representatives, we were elected to represent our community,” Smith said. “I have people contacting me all the time with their points of view and they’re not all the same. I listen to them all, I try to respond…but we were elected to do the job of representing our community and hearing their voices. We’re the ones to make the decision, and ultimately be accountable for our decision.”

As the board moved on to discuss scheduling, there was an outburst from an audience member: “Is this the same firm that hired the last six?” she shouted as she angrily left the room. As Viskanta noted, no, ESS is new and has not been used for San Dieguito’s last superintendent searches.

In the 2021 search the board used JG Consulting (Cheryl James-Ward), in 2018 they used Hazard Young Attea and Associates (Robert Haley) and in 2016, they used Leadership and Associates —that search was put on hold and they ended up appointing internal candidate Eric Dill. The board did not use search firms to find the three interim superintendents they have had since 2016.

Two town hall forums have been scheduled for parents and interested community members on Tuesday, March 7 at San Dieguito Academy and Monday, March 14 at Pacific Trails Middle School. Both will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

All employees, students and members of the community are also invited to complete an online survey which will be posted March 2 at The survey will be open from March 2-15.


4:46 p.m. March 1, 2023: Updated to add town hall meeting dates and online survey information