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Into the launch of this most absurd school year, Forest Park’s District 91 elementary school board also begins its consequential search for the next school superintendent.

COVID or not, in person or virtual, this school system with its strengths and its perpetual and troubling shrinkage will be in the market for a superintendent for the first time in years. Dr. Louis Cavallo will retire — in person or virtually — at the end of this school year. Innovative but never able to win over the home team, Cavallo will leave a district with adequate resources, up-to-date technology, well-kept facilities and low energy.

In the weeks ahead, the school board will begin to define the qualities necessary in its next leader. Inevitably it will seek to compensate for what Cavallo has lacked. This tiny district needs passion, a person who wants to know and listen to parents and teachers, who is a frequent visitor to playgrounds and PTO meetings, a person who can take criticism and share a laugh. This district needs a salesperson who can tout the values of its education, who can defend it from detractors while holding the district to account.

This district needs a connector. A champion.

Next step will be to hire an executive search firm. Poof. There goes $15,000 to $20,000. In all the accepted routines that keep public education flat and contained, the endless loop of superintendent searches by insider firms made up of current or retired superintendents is about the most tedious. Right now two such firms are being interviewed. Cavallo is touting them for having leaders of neighboring districts on staff.

How about breaking the mold? How about not listening to the sitting super from Proviso’s District 89 or the retired chief from Oak Park’s District 97? How about listening to the community, to teachers, having the confidence as school board members to listen to yourselves? How about researching districts accomplishing what we want to accomplish and then recruiting their number two?

As we always say, hiring a superintendent is the single greatest opportunity for a school board. Don’t contract that job out to insiders.

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