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Connie's Goodbye
How to Influence Grant Review Committees
ATSA's Role in Public Education
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Volume XVI, No. 2 • Spring 2004
David Prescott, L.I.C.S.W.
Forum Editor
Dear ATSA Colleagues,
It saddens me that my first official presidential communication to the ATSA membership entails my sharing the details about our search for a new Executive Director. As you know, Connie Isaac has been the Executive Director of ATSA for the last ten years. During her tenure she has been a discerning director, who has nurtured ATSA's development and provided wise guidance for every aspect of our functioning. She hired, trained, and managed our staff, judiciously assured our financial solvency, and graciously met the needs of our membership. She communicated continually with our Executive Board, keeping us abreast of developments and helping us to focus on the issues that we had to address. She developed agendas for Board meetings, kept minutes of our discussions, and provided critical history for the issues we were considering. She monitored the publication of our journal and newsletter, and created and managed our listserv and website. She also guided the creation of conferences that provided learning experiences for a wide range of participants. She worked hard to make sure that these conferences titillated our intellects, improved our clinical competence, and challenged our perspectives. That ATSA conferences are uniquely congenial, tastefully arranged with memorable moments of panache, smoothly and flawlessly organized, and accompanied with copious comestibles are all the consequences of Connie's painstaking planning. We owe her an immense debt of gratitude. We will miss her Renaissance competence and the prodigious store of institutional memory that she takes with her.
As you might imagine, the task of finding a replacement for Connie was and is quite daunting. After Connie's announcement at the October conference in St. Louis of her intention to resign, a subcommittee was immediately established to brainstorm options and to make recommendations to the Executive Board about what process should be followed in searching for a new director. After a month's deliberation and consultation with an external expert, the subcommittee reached four conclusions. First, the most optimistic timeline for the hiring process would require at least four months. This meant that if the search process started in earnest immediately, March 1 would be the absolutely earliest date we could expect a new director to begin. A more likely start date would be April or May 1, considerably after Connie had left. Second, the search process would require someone to invest approximately 300 hours of work seeking, screening, and checking candidates over the next three months. In Hiring the Chief Executive Sheila Alpert recommended that the outgoing "executive should not be perceived as being directly involved in the selection process. Such involvement inhibits candidates, confuses staff, distracts the board, and tends to keep the organization focused on the present, with echoes of the past." Consequently, the time commitment for the search process could not come from Connie. It would have to come from the Board's Search Committee. Even if this time were distributed among a small group of dedicated volunteers, it was unlikely that they could sufficiently reduce their current responsibilities so that they could guarantee a time commitment of this magnitude during the next three months. Third, although certain Board members had experience with academic and clinical staff searches, no one had the experience necessary to mount a competent and comprehensive national search for an Executive Director. Fourth, it was clear that we were left with the only practical course to follow--engage a search firm. The Board voted unanimously to pursue this course and approved a Search Committee comprising Grace Davis, Art Gordon, Keith Kaufman, Robin McGinnis, and myself.
Robin and Connie identified the most promising search firms that had experience with non-profit organizations the size of ATSA. We solicited recommendations about these firms and decided to interview four potential firms. The Search Committee conducted these interviews via teleconferences. The committee unanimously agreed to engage the services of the Association Executive Resources Group (AERG), and Gerald Hurley was appointed as our contact person from this group.
Fortunately for the Search Committee, a job analysis of Connie's responsibilities had been conducted a couple of year's ago at Connie's request. Using this report, the committee was able to prioritize the characteristics it considered essential for the next Executive Director. Using the committee's description, AERG began contacting its resources and placing advertisements. Over the next two months, AERG screened 70 applicants and identified five outstanding candidates. Gerald Hurley interviewed these top candidates in depth, contacted their references, and did extensive background checks on them. Detailed reports were created for each candidate, including their resumes, cover letters, a summary of the AERG interview and reference contacts, and any publications and products submitted by the candidates. These were submitted to the Search Committee on February 16, and in a teleconference on the evening of the 19th the committee agreed on the top four candidates it would interview in Portland on March 6th.
The members of the Executive Board were asked to generate lists of critical questions that they thought essential for the Search Committee to ask the candidates in the March 6th interviews. The questions they generated were categorized and prioritized and a detailed interview format was created. Because of our pressing time needs to get a Director on board and sufficiently comfortable with our organization in time to oversee the details of the upcoming conference, the Executive Board empowered the Search Committee to make an offer the weekend of the interviews, if and only if the committee unanimously agreed on the best choice for the position. Because a prospective Director would have to give sufficient notice to his or her current employer, it is not likely that he or she could begin the responsibilities of new position before the middle of April or May. These start-date estimates assume that lengthy negotiations about the conditions of employment would prove unnecessary. If the agreement of the Search Committee on the top candidate were not unanimous, a second subcommittee of four Board members was identified to interview the top choices in a teleconference. Using the feedback from both committees the Board would then have to resolve disagreements at our March 20th teleconference. Hopefully, the second interview will not be necessary, and we will have an announcement to make to the membership about the new director soon.
I look forward to the many possibilities the organization will face during the rest of my term as President. I count on your continued involvement and welcome your comments, feedback and direction.
I am honored to serve ATSA and its members in this capacity.
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