Behind the scenes: hiring processes for superintendent, district staff

October 14, 2022 — by Lynn Dai and Jonny Luo
Photo by Lynn Dai
New superintendent Bill Sanderson, along with several other district staff, was welcomed to the school district at the beginning of the school year.

The Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District (LGSUHSD) welcomed Bill Sanderson as its new district superintendent on July 5 after an extensive search process conducted by Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA) search consultants Diane Siri and Carolyn McKennan. 

The process, which sourced applicants from all across the country, involved a detailed collaboration between HYA and the school board. 

Board president Katherine Tseng said the board immediately began the process of hiring a new superintendent after former superintendent Mike Grove announced his retirement in April due to chronic health concerns. This process is the only hiring decision that the board makes, (hiring of all other staff members is relegated to the superintendent), which makes hiring the right superintendent vital to the district’s success, she said. 

The process involved surveying and interviewing 458 certified staff (teachers with credentials), classified staff (support staff members), administrators and students.

These interviews and surveys were used to determine what traits the community valued in their next superintendent. She said the key qualities that emerged in a leader were transparency, empathy and strong communication.

“Sometimes we would joke that the community wanted so many things that we needed a saint to become our new superintendent,” Tseng said. 

Working with HYA, the school board posted job openings in forums across the country. After screening each individual with the consulting firm, they began a three-round interview process for selecting the next superintendent.  

“We held meetings and check-ins with our HYA counselors nearly every other day,” Tseng said. “We wanted to ensure that all stakeholders — principals, community members and staff — were included in the process to help determine the best talent to fit our school leadership profile.”

The school board and other stakeholders also took an extra step beyond the three-round interview by conducting a site visit to the superintendent candidate’s school district, where they met with the candidate and their superiors.

In the meantime, Superintendent Grove worked until the day the new superintendent came into office to ensure a smooth transition. Grove was also in charge of hiring interim employees who would fill in any empty positions while the new superintendent searched for long-term employees to fill those positions.  

 

Superintendent finalizes district hires after important departures

Going into the summer, the district faced significant staffing challenges because of retirements and relocations. These key losses included former executive administrative assistant Jane Marashian, who retired after serving under multiple superintendents over the past 17 years, and former associate superintendent Carrie Bosco, who announced her departure to take a job as an associate superintendent at the Los Altos Mountain View School District after 10 years in LGSUHSD. 

Additionally, human resources director Brian Safine returned to work at Saratoga High as a guidance counselor, leaving a significant opening to fill. 

In order to hire new people to fill these positions, Sanderson said he assembled a diverse hiring panel.

“We want to make sure the hiring process is inclusive and diverse, so the panel includes teachers and staff from different parts of the district,” Tseng said. “We want new talent to reflect our school district, so we formulated our hiring panel to be diverse and recruit people that can reflect our students.”

Mike Ramer is filling in for Marashian as executive administrative assistant. 

Additionally, on Aug. 31, the district announced the appointment of three new members to its leadership team.

Deepa Mukherjee, who previously served as Director of Curriculum, Instruction, English Learner Services and Alternative Education for San Jose Unified School District, is the new assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Mukherjee also previously served as the principal and assistant principal of Leland High School and has over two decades of experience in high school education in the San Jose Unified School District.

Paul Belzer, who previously served as the assistant principal in the Half Moon Bay and San Mateo Union High School Districts, is the new Director of Human Resources. Most recently, he was the principal of Mills High School and Burlingame High School, and has over three decades of experience in public high school teaching and leadership.

Casino Fajardo is also joining the district as the Director of Facilities, Maintenance, and Operations, with over 20 years of experience in construction management. Fajardo previously served as the Director of Construction and Modernization in the Morgan Hill Unified School District and most recently worked in Dublin Unified School District.

 

Sanderson aims to foster relationship with community

Before serving as the new LGSUHSD superintendent, Sanderson taught in San Francisco and in his South Carolina hometown, where experiences with segregation in his childhood education have largely come to shape his philosophy at work.

Sanderson witnessed the impact of segregation and tracking (putting students in fast or slow courses based on perceived aptitude) first-hand at the middle school he attended. 

Alice Burning Middle School split students into three tracking groups, with the most advanced group consisting of only whites and the least advanced group comprising nearly all African Americans, with the exception of Sanderson. 

However, Sanderson and a few other students from his tracking group were pulled out privately by a teaching assistant to receive a preliminary assessment on the mathematical concepts they were supposed to understand, and if they did well, they would move to the advanced group.

“I don’t know why we were chosen to be assessed, but [having the opportunity to be formally assessed on my skills] changed my life,” he said.

Being exposed to the possibilities of improving his livelihood through education, Sanderson was inspired to pursue a career in education. 

Early in his career, Sanderson held roles at different middle schools in South Carolina, serving as a biology teacher by trade, assistant principal and later principal of Northwoods Middle School in Charleston. 

In 2003, Sanderson was encouraged by friends to apply to become the principal of Burton High School in San Francisco. He worked as an assistant principal and principal in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) until 2014, when Sanderson started developing the curriculum and instruction division in the school district, eventually helping increase graduation rates, especially among Blacks and English language learners.

“Burton High School really inspired me to become the educator that I am today,” Sanderson said. “The relationships that I was able to build with the students, families and teachers really inspired me to do that work because I’m able to engage with these young people on a different level. Even as I’ve moved into leadership positions now, I still schedule to be in schools at least two days a week to stay connected.”

Sanderson said he is strongly motivated to work in education because of the impact that education has had on his life, having grown up with parents who hadn’t graduated high school. 

“I deeply believe that public education is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Sanderson said. “I came out of multi-generations of poverty, and education changed that trajectory for me; we should give every single student that same opportunity. That’s why I do this work and that’s why I’ve done it for over three decades.”

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