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San Diego Unified announced the three finalists in the running to become the next superintendent of the second largest school district in California: Oakland nonprofit leader Debbra Lindo, former Hayward Unified superintendent Dale Vigil and the current interim superintendent, Bill Kowba.

Whoever is the ultimate pick for superintendent will be expected to work within an organizational structure, a mission and with top employees who were already chosen by the school board. That is relatively unusual: Superintendents usually pick their staff and often reorganize school districts they enter, shaking them up each time a new chief comes to town.

“What we don’t want is someone who’s going to come in and turn the district over again,” school board President Richard Barrera said, describing all three as having “a collaborative leadership style.”

Airing the names of the finalists is a relatively rare move for San Diego Unified, which has traditionally hired headhunters to seek candidates and conducted its search entirely behind closed doors. After three different superintendents have cycled through the school district in just five years, the hope is that a new, more open process will find a superintendent who is a better fit and more committed to San Diego.

Barrera said all three candidates showed the qualities that parents, teachers and community members said they valued at community forums, including the ability to manage a large and complex organization and understand the academic needs of students. Both Lindo and Vigil are longtime educators; Kowba has the most experience with running large organizations and, obviously, inside knowledge of San Diego.

Interestingly, all three are candidates who seem to have little to lose by letting people know they’re looking at the San Diego superintendency. Vigil left his last school district, Lindo is now working in a nonprofit, which looks like a significant jump, and Kowba was already publicly known as a candidate.

Throwing the process open may have turned some candidates away, critics say. Barrera said while that’s possible, some sitting superintendents in large school districts did apply and just didn’t make the cut.

Board members openly say that some potential candidates shied away because they believed that Kowba, who has earned public praise from the school board for honest, steady leadership, was guaranteed to get the job. That was one reason they chose to extend the deadline and seek more applications for the job. But none of those later applicants ended up being finalists.

The three finalists will answer prepared questions submitted by the public at a televised forum tomorrow night from 6pm at the school district headquarters on Normal Street. The school board plans to conduct final interviews and hopes to make their pick by June 29.

Biographies of the candidates will be posted online tomorrow on the school district website. We’ll also be ferreting out all we can about these candidates, their histories and what they could mean for San Diego Unified tonight and tomorrow so that we can give you more detail about the would-be-superintendents. Find something that we should know about? Please shoot me an e-mail at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.

— EMILY ALPERT

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