School & District Management

Firms Merge in Busy Market for Superintendent Searches

By Rhea R. Borja — October 31, 2006 2 min read
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Three well-established private firms and a recent start-up have merged to create a single large firm focused on superintendent searches.

The new firm, Houston-based BWP & Associates LLC, opened its doors this past summer after the dissolution of four superintendent-search firms: Austin, Texas-based Harold Webb & Associates, one of the nation’s oldest such firms; St. Paul, Minn.-based PNR & Associates; the Oak Brook, Ill.-based Bickert Group; and Phoenix-based Executive Searches Unlimited.

Executive Searches, which had opened only in January, engineered the merger of the firms, which had already started to work collaboratively, and many of the directors of the first three firms moved to BWP.

“We all had the feeling that we could have synergy and offer services that we wouldn’t have been able to [give] previously,” said Doug Wilson, who was formerly of Executive Searches and is now BWP’s managing director. “The partners [of the other firms] … had all done their time managing. They still wanted to keep their hands in, but not do the day-to-day management. So that provided an opportunity for us to say, ‘Hey, we’d like to do that.’ ”

As is common in other superintendent-search firms, all but one of the 10 partners of BWP had worked as school district superintendents before moving to the private sector. Partner Nolan Estes, for example, was schools chief for 10 years in the 1960s and ‘70s of the 162,000-student Dallas district, and partner Stuart Berger was a superintendent of the 108,000-student Baltimore County, Md., schools and the 48,000-student Wichita, Kan., school system.

The 10th partner, Julie K. Underwood, is the dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was formerly the general counsel and an associate executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association.

Regional Ties

Each of the partners has strong regional connections, said Mr. Wilson. Those from Harold Webb have many contacts in Texas and Louisiana, those at the Bickert Group worked with many districts in the upper Midwest, and former PNR directors had good connections in the Pacific Northwest.

The firm also employs 30 to 40 consultants.

The merger comes as the competition in district-leader search services remains strong, say several experts. At least 27 state school boards associations help districts find administrators, according to a 2005 survey by the NSBA. Some regional education centers also offer search services.

Meanwhile, the turnover rate for superintendents fuels a need for such help. On average, roughly 2,000 to 2,200 of the country’s 13,500 superintendents—or about 15 percent—leave their jobs annually, according to data from the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as Firms Merge in Busy Market for Superintendent Searches

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