Headhunting, HISD-Style

Linus Wright: He let his fingers do the walking in the superintendent search.
Paige Morrison

Executive recruiter Linus Wright stood before the Houston Independent School District board to explain his efforts on their behalf to ferret out candidates for the district superintendency. Only a handful of members of the media, interested citizens and HISD employees had gathered to watch, despite the fact that the special session had been called to approve the selection of interim superintendent Kaye Stripling as the board's choice to succeed predecessor and current U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Perhaps the continuing rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison had something to do with the sparse turnout. Or perhaps it could be attributed to the general perception that the vote to accept Stripling as the sole finalist was a done deal. The suspicion, particularly on the part of Hispanic activists, was that Wright's $35,000 search had been a case of simply going through the motions until the board majority could install a compliant don't-rock-the-boat homegirl who wouldn't interfere with their agenda of decentralization and privatization.

Wright, a former Dallas Independent School District chief who works for the Dallas-based Ray & Berndtson firm, rattled off an impressive array of numbers for his two-month effort, including contacts with "67 people as of last week, and one since then."

But when trustee Olga Gallegos questioned Wright about how many of those contacts had been face-to-face interviews, the comprehensiveness of the effort became apparent. Wright admitted that all 68 persons had been contacted by phone, and no one had been interviewed in person before he made his recommendation to the board that Stripling was the only qualified candidate.

So just how serious was the effort to recruit an outsider for the district's top job, one of the highest-paid public positions in Harris County, at over $200,000 a year? Consider that Wright's last call was directed at Houston City Controller Sylvia Garcia earlier this week. She's still chuckling over the conversation.

"He said that he was doing some work with HISD to identify a school superintendent, my name had come up, and he was wondering if I was interested," recalls a surprised Garcia.

She responded that she was flattered by the call, but that she was quite happy with her position and that the superintendent position "was not anything that was on my radar screen."

Wright then asked Garcia, "Are you sure?" and she repeated her spiel.

The conversation then ended.

Garcia says she and a staffer later joked that she should have nibbled on Wright's inquiry and asked for an interview, "just to rattle him and see what they would have done." Wright told the controller she had been recommended to him by HISD trustee Karla Cisneros, which puzzled the controller, since she rarely sees Cisneros.

"Apparently it wasn't even a drive-by search," concludes Garcia. "It was just a cyberspace search."

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