The headmasters and principals of private schools serve as the public face of an institution. Their plans and accomplishments are highlighted in school press releases, and their influence can be felt in everything from board of trustees events to graduation ceremonies.
It probably comes as no surprise, then, that those who assume these roles have also succeeded in jumping through more than a few hoops during the hiring process.
The last academic year saw a number of private schools in the Richmond area either begin the hunt for a new school leader or announce that they had completed their search.
Terrie Hale Scheckelhoff, Ph.D., the recently appointed head of school for St. Catherine's all-girls private school, was the last person standing after more than 90 candidates applied for the top job at the JK-12 institution.
"Terrie is amazing at being very focused on the people she is talking to, and she was able to do that while meeting hundreds of people during the interviews," says Katherine Whitby, who headed up St. Catherine's 12-member search committee. "She is also really committed to girls' schools. She has spent her entire career gaining experience and studying girl education."
Prior to coming to St. Catherine's, Scheckelhoff spent 32 years at the Columbus School for Girls in Ohio. Without the help of The Education Group, a third-party search firm, Whitby doubts that such a candidate would have been found on a national level. "We were trying to be as inclusive as possible. We really feel like we got the best firm for us," she says. "They had a deep background in girls' education. Our principal liaison there, Mary Kessler, probably knew every girls' school."
Hiring a third-party search firm was the first of three ways that St. Catherine's hiring process differed from the way it was done in previous years. The school accelerated its hiring calendar to maintain a competitive edge in the national search, and at Kessler's urging, a visiting day was added for the four finalists to come to the campus and see if St. Catherine's was the right fit for them.
This change, according to Scheckelhoff, made all the difference when it came to choosing between her multiple offers. "St. Catherine's was much more genuine and authentic," she says. "There was such a warm sense of community."
The search for a new head of school at Seven Hills, a private school for middle-school boys, was still in its beginning stages in June.
When reviewing applications, Michael Southam-Gerow, Ph.D., head of the search committee for Seven Hills, says the panel will look at more regional candidates familiar with curricula for middle-school boys and who have the ability to deal with the constant challenge of fundraising.
"This will involve remaining current of trends in and research on how adolescent boys learn and what their developmental needs are," reads the job description for Seven Hills' head of school.
Seven Hills has chosen not to use a third-party consulting firm in its search, at least to start. "We are advertising through independent schools, the National Association of Independent Schools, Independent School Management, and through an ad on Monster.com and through social media," Gerow says. "We will see what kind of results we get before we decide on hiring a headhunter."
Although summer is not the traditional time to begin a search, since most plans for the next academic year are outlined in December, Gerow anticipates good results. In the first day that the search committee began advertising, three candidates applied.
Striking a middle ground between Seven Hills and St. Catherine's, the hiring process for the new principal at St. Edward-Epiphany Catholic School had a national scope but produced a smaller applicant pool and an even more familiar final choice. After the previous principal's January announcement of her retirement, the search committee considered 16 candidates before eventually deciding to hire St. Edward teacher Emily Elliott, a fifth-grade instructor in language arts, reading and social studies. "We received applications from as far away as California, as far north as Massachusetts, and as far south as Georgia," says Virginia Marchetti, chair of St. Edward-Epiphany's school board. "When we began this process so many months ago, we did not realize that our top candidate would be one of our own."