Why I Really Liked Our Search Process

The big news around campus, from my vantage point, has to be the announcement of Nancy Nagramada as our permanent head of school. You might guess that’s because it means my interim stint will reach its designed end point, but it goes way beyond that. Let me share a little inside baseball perspective about what was so good about the path that took us to this point:

Not sure how much you were paying attention across the past six months, but this was a very deliberate and structured sequence of events. It began with hiring absolute A List consultants, something that took dollars and commitment from the outset. Those two folks, Doreen Oleson and Kimo Scott, both kama’āina, know our school and respect our culture. They cast the net wide and in the right directions, as only they could do. Then they worked the process, phase by phase, seeking and responding to candidates who might be interested enough to grind through this exhaustive process.

The next key ingredient was a search committee that represented old and new, faculty and Board and families, education and industry, yesterday and today and tomorrow for Island School. They sorted through the documents submitted, made a long list shorter, and found the right people for Zoom interviews. Then they designed a packed schedule for in-person visits and went 3-for-3 inviting the finalists they wanted us to see up close.

Those visits are a high wire act, with lots of moving parts. It’s not uncommon for candidates to withdraw based on something unexpected happening in one of the meetings, nor is it uncommon for someone to not quite be the person they seemed to be from a distance. By contrast, we met three really talented, dedicated, experienced people who ultimately really took a deep interest in being here. Let’s not take that for granted.

Then from my understanding, though I was not part of the deliberations, both the search committee and then the Board faced a happily difficult task settling on the person who’d receive an offer. They worked long and hard on that decision, which is just as we’d have hoped from the outset. And once that offer was made, it was accepted. Again, that doesn’t always happen—things can get really tangled at the end, but they didn’t. Yay for us.

Now comes the low-profile stretch of months between that appointment and the new head’s arrival on campus. Kinda weird really. Nancy will be attending to all her responsibilities in her current role until the school year ends, and I’ll focus on getting things in the best shape possible for a handoff in late June. We’ll probably talk pretty frequently, in whatever way works best for her, but nothing formal. Maybe she’ll visit once or twice just to observe and start imagining life here. And that’s how it’s supposed to go.

I don’t have the stats on failed searches, though the fact is that they are not uncommon, for all the reasons listed above. So much has to go right for the outcome to be as good as ours. It speaks well of the school and of the potential here. At the same time, here’s a cautionary note: 1 in 5 new heads are not making it through year 3. And one-third of all schools in our national member organization (NAIS) have had 3 or more heads in the last 10 years. Pretty sobering. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can help with a welcome, in due time—stay tuned for word on all that.

It takes a whole school community to make this big transition a success. In the twenty-something years since I was a brand-new school head, the job has probably become less appealing, just to be honest. Everything happens faster, people have a hard time seeing the benefits of compromise, and the stakes seem higher. Still, there’s so much fulfillment possible in watching young people grow and learn, in seeing a faculty thrive, all when we work together.

So there’s the challenge and the opportunity. I like our chances.

Mahalo for reading,

and thanks in advance for re-enrolling before February 17th—it’s essential as we get  ready to respond to applications for admission in the weeks just after that date.