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Executive Search 101

Image of Elaine Howard, Superintendent of Sharyland ISD

For a school board, selecting and hiring a new superintendent is among its most important responsibilities. Because finding the right leader for a district is so essential to academic achievement, many school boards opt for help in doing a comprehensive superintendent search.  

Yet hiring the right search firm to assist with this process can also feel daunting, especially with so much at stake with the outcome.  

“It’s critical that districts are prepared for the process and choose a search team that not only fits the district’s specific needs, but that also has the experience, knowledge, and connections to put forward the best candidates to the board, ultimately leading to a successful outcome,” said George Kazanas, Ed.D., TASB division director of Executive Search and Field Services. 

Here are six tips and best practices for school boards to consider before hiring a search firm, based on the recent experience of Sharyland ISD and TASB’s Executive Search Services, which has successfully completed more than 800 searches on behalf of Texas public school boards in the past 30 years.  

1. Know the Firm’s Track Record 

For the Sharyland ISD Board of Trustees, hiring a firm that had a proven track record and a stellar reputation was at the forefront of its requirements, said JosePepe” Garcia, a former Sharyland ISD trustee who served as board president during the search process. After considering several options, the board hired TASB Executive Search Services to conduct its most recent search, based on TASB’s commitment to attracting top-tier candidates who fit the district’s needs, Garcia said. 

“Partnering with TASB reflected our dedication to professionalism and integrity, culminating in selecting Dr. Elaine Howard as our new superintendent, who shares our commitment to academic excellence and student success,” Garcia said. “With Dr. Howard at the helm, we are confident that ‘Excellence is our Tradition’ will continue to guide us forward, ensuring continued growth and achievement for Sharyland ISD.” 

2. Set Clear Expectations for the Search Firm 

Before Sharyland ISD’s board selected TASB ESS for its search, the board had expectations for a clear and concise search process, Garcia said, adding that the board knew what it wanted from the search firm it would hire. 

“We anticipated a seamless transition, with the selected firm providing ease of communication and overall guidance throughout the process,” he said. 

Also, confidentiality was of “paramount importance” to the board, Garcia said. “We expected the highest level of discretion to be maintained at all times,” he said. “These expectations were crucial in ensuring a successful superintendent search that would ultimately benefit our students, staff, and community.” 

3. Make Open Communication a Top Priority 

To ensure your district finds the right superintendent, it’s important that the search firm makes communication a top priority, Kazanas said.  

“Whether you have specific characteristics you seek in your next leader or have an expectation for the community feedback process, if you don’t have open and responsive communication with your search firm, it may be more challenging to find the leader you expect in the timeframe that you want,” he said. 

For the trustees at Sharyland ISD, communication played a pivotal role throughout the process, Garcia said. Maintaining that flow of communication ensured that the trustees were informed and engaged at every stage of the process, he said.  

“Transparency and open dialogue were prioritized to foster trust and collaboration among board members,” he said. “Ultimately, our goal was to ensure that everyone involved in the search process was on the same page, working toward the common objective of selecting the best possible candidate to lead our district. This involved effective communication, mutual respect, and a commitment to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.” 

4. Consider a Firm’s Background and Experience 

Garcia said the Sharyland ISD search process went so smoothly, in part because TASB ESS provided the district with the expertise and professionalism expected by the board.  

That expertise was clear when it came to gathering community feedback, Garcia said. TASB ESS provided invaluable guidance to the district, which helped it ensure its outreach efforts were “impactful and inclusive,” he said. 

Kazanas said that because the search for a new superintendent is one of the board’s most important roles, there are no shortcuts to finding the right firm to assist with the process.  

Kazanas said some questions a board should consider asking when hiring a search firm include:  

  • How many years of executive search experience does the firm have? 
  • Are executive searches the firm’s sole focus? 
  • Does the firm meet all of the district’s criteria, such as availability, flexibility, price, and network connections? 
  • Can the firm conduct a statewide or nationwide search? 
  • How will the firm be responsive to the needs of the board and district? 

“Experience is very important,” Kazanas said. “For example, all of our consultants and field representatives have worked as superintendents, and they bring that depth of knowledge and experience to the process. They have built strong relationships with district leaders across the state. That experience coupled with the integrity boards know we bring to a search helps us build trust with the districts we serve.” 

5. Don’t Overlook Key Details 

When hiring a search firm, it’s important to ask questions that will shed light not only on the overall process, but also on the specific details involving fees, guarantees, and transition services, Kazanas said. Asking these questions is key because districts vary in their expectations, needs, and timelines. Many searches take 90 to 120 days, but that schedule may be customized depending on a district’s needs. All of these variables should inform a district’s choice of search firm. 

Here are some key questions to ask when interviewing a search firm:  

  • How does the firm approach a superintendent search? 
  • How many searches has the firm successfully completed? 
  • Which districts has the firm worked with?  
  • What are the search firm’s five-year retention rates for superintendents who were hired? 
  • What does the firm do when a search needs to be extended? 
  • What does the firm’s fee include? 
  • Does the firm provide transition assistance and board training? 
  • Does the firm offer a guarantee? 

6. Remember a Firm’s Reputation Matters 

Before starting a search, Garcia said the most important factor the Sharyland ISD board considered was the reputation of the search firm it was partnering with. “Their expertise and track record can streamline the process and ensure a successful outcome for the district,” he said.  

Kazanas said that each search will be different, which is why the board needs to consider all of these factors to ensure that the firm it hires will deliver the best possible candidates and make the board feel confident about its leadership decision. “Nothing is more important than knowing you’ve found the best, most qualified leader to serve your district and your community,” Kazanas said.  

“To ensure the best outcome, a board must be confident that the search firm it works with will exceed expectations,” he said. “With our more than 30 years of experience serving boards, we at TASB ESS have built a reputation for being a trusted partner that will go above and beyond to ensure the best outcome possible. We pride ourselves on the strong relationships we have built with districts across the state.” 

Learn more about TASB ESS, contact us at or 512-467-3690

Executive Search Services Contacts

When you need a superintendent to meet your district’s unique needs, TASB’s experienced ESS team is here to guide your district through every step of the recruiting process.

Executive Search Services for School Boards

When your district needs a superintendent with vision, goals, and the experience to lead, let our expert search team support you through every step of the recruiting process.

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Mary Ann Lopez
Senior Communications Specialist

Mary Ann Lopez is a senior communications specialist for TASB.