Board selects search firm, appoints committee to conduct process

February 5, 2021

By Jacquelyn Opalach, Features Editor

During regular and special board meetings last month, Peralta trustees checked off a few boxes on their chancellor search to-do list — by selecting members for a chancellor selection committee and by choosing an outside firm to conduct a nationwide candidate search — thus drawing the district a couple steps closer to finding a permanent leader. 

These advancements come at a time when Peralta is being closely watched by California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley, who at the September board of governors meeting voiced an expectation for the district to have selected a chancellor by March 1, with the threat of a special trustee potentially at stake. 

At a January 12 special meeting, trustees met to select a firm to conduct a search for Peralta’s new chancellor. Four interested companies gave 15-minute presentations at the meeting — AGB Search, Myers McRae, RH Perry & Associates and Spelman Johnson. 

Over a short and amicable discussion, trustees selected AGB Search for the job, many citing appreciation of that firm’s offer to stick with the new chancellor over their first year working at Peralta in order to help resolve issues and ensure the person is a good fit. 

“Our experience shows us that most of the problems that occur, occur in year one. So by working very closely with the new chancellor, working very closely with the president of the board, and the board in general, we can identify any problems that come up in that first year, and help to get around those problems,” Roderick McDavis, managing principal at AGB Search, explained at the meeting. 

“So if a president or a chancellor gets to that second, third, fourth year, without a lot of problems behind them, we find that the success rate is much longer than it ordinarily would be. So it’s something that we embrace and believe in a lot.”

AGB Search are carrying out their service in three primary stages. First is a listening session with the district in order to understand what qualities Peralta is looking for in a chancellor. Based on that information, AGB Search will build a candidates pool in four to six weeks, using advertising, networking and outreach. 

Afterward, they’ll work with the search committee to review both the internal and external candidates, and help identify top candidates, for whom they will organize an interview process consisting of semi and final rounds. 

And, of course, following the hire they’ll stick around for the first year to help resolve issues. McDavis added that AGB Search has been successfully doing most of their work virtually since March. 

With this process the company has conducted over 700 searches, 93 percent of which have resulted in a match that lasted for five or more years. Over 50 percent of their placements are women or people of color. 

“We don’t leave you until you’re happy with the person who’s been identified as your next chancellor,” McDavis said. 

Several trustees said bluntly that AGB Search was their favorite of the four firms. The company’s offer to help resolve conflict over the first year was very popular with the trustees. “I really like that they follow the chancellor for at least a year, I think that that’s something that Peralta really needs,” Trustee Dyana Delfín Polk said.

Trustee Julina Bonilla agreed that AGB’s first-year transition assistance is valuable, but noted that search firms that found former Peralta chancellors have offered the same service, which selected chancellors ultimately declined. “It’s not something that, unfortunately, chancellors, once hired, are amenable to,” Bonilla said.

Board Vice President Nicky González Yuen said he wished the presenting firms had addressed and expressed an understanding of Peralta’s inclusive process. “It’s a really complicated mix of ethnicities. And every chancellor must be particularly attentive to that, and the search firm has to be particularly attentive to that,” Yuen said. “Did any of these firms raise that particular issue and the nuances of that particular challenge in our district? And I was listening for it, and it didn’t rise up for me.”

“I think what we need is a firm that is culturally sensitive and understands that their job is to empower a search committee, not to pick a chancellor for us.” 

The trustees unanimously voted to hire AGB Search. 

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Afterward, the board voted to approve appointees from district constituency groups to form the chancellor search committee, which, according to Board Policy 2431, will “review applications, interview candidates, and recommend candidates for final interviews by the board.” 

Trustee Linda Handy abstained from this motion after voicing concerns that there is too much overlap in members between the proposed committee and committees that have partaken in previous searches. 

“As I look at this group, it’s not different from the last group,” Handy said. “I’d like to see some new names,” she said, adding that the group is “labor intensive.” 

“You keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

Board President Cindi Napoli-Abella Reiss said that Board Policy 2431, which outlines specifically which constituency groups must be represented in the committee, is what the board would need to amend in order to address Handy’s concerns. Bonilla added that eight of the eleven members were not part of the last search committee. “That’s a significant difference,” she said.

The group was ultimately approved, with “yes” votes from all trustees but Handy, who abstained. 

See the approved members in the table at right.

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Also on the January 12 agenda was an item to choose and appoint community members to serve on the chancellor selection committee. Community members for these three volunteer seats are nominated by trustees, however, trustees Kevin Jenkins, Linda Handy and Dyana Delfín Polk each said they didn’t have an opportunity before the meeting to nominate community members. 

The item was tabled until the board’s following regular meeting one week later. At that January 19 meeting, the board selected three community members and one alternate (in case one of the three selected folks can’t participate) from a pool of 12 nominees to serve on the chancellor search committee. 

Following a very confusing voting process, the board passed Trustee Bill Withrow’s substitute motion to appoint Adrien Abuyen, a first-generation Filipino Mexican graduate from UC Berkeley and former Peralta student trustee, Richard Sherratt, former vice mayor of Alameda, trustee and past president of the CSU East Bay Educational Foundation, Lailan Sandra Huan, Oakland Unified School District’s director/program manager/specialist, and alternate Josie Camacho, retired executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Labor Council. 

Citing a hope to diversify the committee by gender and race, the original motion, proposed by Trustee Nicky Gonzales Yuen, would have appointed Camacho rather than Sherratt into the primary group. There is an “underrepresentation of both Latinx and API candidates. I think those three would go a long way towards rebalancing,” Yuen said. (The eleven Peralta-based constituency members, approved at the prior meeting, includes eight men and three women. Five are African American, three are Caucasian, two are Hispanic, and one is Asian.)

However, after Handy said that the committee is already “labor heavy,” and that Camacho’s nomination would further dominate labor representation, Withrow suggested the substitute motion that ultimately passed. All trustees voted “yes” on this motion, except for Trustee Polk, who abstained.

The chancellor selection committee, which has a total of 14 members, will work with AGB Search to select five candidates to recommend to the board.