Several members of the San Diego Unified school board say they want to have a much more open, transparent process for picking the next superintendent — one that could actually bring finalists forward to be vetted by the community at large.

Doing so could mean that superintendents from other school districts, who usually dislike being outed as candidates, will shy away from the search. School board member Katherine Nakamura argued that it would force candidates to risk the confidence of their school districts for a job they might not get, keeping qualified candidates from sticking their necks out.

But board member Richard Barrera said that the traditional process of hiring a search firm that will “go out and poach somebody else’s superintendent under a veil of secrecy is not the right approach.” Losing candidates who don’t want their current employer to know, he said, may be a sacrifice that San Diego Unified just has to make. And it may push them to find more committed local candidates.

“The message is that whoever applies for this job, we want to know you’re committed to us long term. That this is not just the next step on your career ladder,” Barrera said.

The board has yet to decide how it will conduct the search, whether it will hire a search firm, or even when they want to hire a replacement for Superintendent Terry Grier. It has informally chosen another employee, William Kowba, as the interim superintendent. But Barrera is not alone.

John Lee Evans, who was elected to the board at the same time as Barrera, echoed his idea. Board President Shelia Jackson also hinted that a local candidate could be a good idea.

“We don’t want people looking for the next largest district,” she said.

San Diego Unified would be rare in airing out its superintendent finalists, but it would not be the first school district to do so. A quick Google search turns up a few: Tempe Union High School District in Arizona did so several years ago. Juneau schools named its finalists this year. And Cambridge, Mass., schools held a meet-the-candidates forum where the finalists took questions from the crowd.

What do you think? Is an open superintendent search what San Diego Unified needs — or will it just drive the top candidates away? Should the candidate be a superintendent from another school district, or does it make sense for San Diego schools to promote someone from within? Post your ideas in the comments on the Schooled blog or shoot me an e-mail at


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