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Who will find Buffalo's next superintendent?

Seven consultants are in the running to help Buffalo find its next superintendent.

But there's one search firm that's getting the most attention: Cascade Consulting, out of Seattle.

Here's why: They would be working with Say Yes to Education, the nonprofit that's thinking about coming to Buffalo.

Say Yes, as we reported over the weekend, brings a multi-pronged approach to reforming a district: a college tuition guarantee for all students who graduate from a public high school and are accepted to college; a collaborative approach to governance, which includes meetings twice a month with county, city, district and union officials; and realignment of resources to provide tutoring, summer programs, health services, counseling and other supports to help kids make it to graduation.

As we know, Say Yes seems to be in the home stretch of nailing down a deal to come to Buffalo.

Simultaneously, the School Board is in the process of selecting a consultant to help with its superintendent search. It's no secret that Say Yes would like to work with Cascade Consulting to conduct that search.

Will the group's decision on whether to come to Buffalo be contingent on the School Board selecting Cascade as its search firm?

Well, nobody's explicitly saying yes.

"We don't know," said Clotilde Dedecker, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, one of the people leading local efforts to bring Say Yes here.

Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, president of Say Yes, says her group's decision is not contingent on the board hiring Cascade.

It's worth noting, though, that last week, when the board was given a list of the seven consultants in the running, the first question, from Florence Johnson, was: "We're wondering which of these firms is associated with Say Yes."

In Syracuse, Say Yes got involved with the superintendent search by working with Cascade Consulting. (That opening arose well after Say Yes had established itself in that district.)

The search was notable, many say, for its efforts to include community input along the way. For instance, there were four community forums, along with an online survey, to find out what residents wanted to see in a new superintendent.

The search there led to two finalists: Grand Rapids, Mich., Superintendent Bernard Taylor and Providence, R.I., Chief Academic Officer Sharon Contreras. The finalists' names became public after the parent group in Syracuse pushed hard for the community to have a chance to meet the finalists before the board made a decision.

Several days later, Taylor withdrew, and Contreras was named superintendent.

So now, back to Buffalo.

We have seven firms that submitted proposals to do the superintendent search: Cascade; District Wide Search Consultants, out of Old Westbury, N.Y.; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, out of Rosemont, Ill.; Proact Search, out of Wilmette, Ill.; Ray and Associates, Inc., out of Manahawkin, N.J.; School Leadership, LLC, out of NYC; and Vince Coppola at the University at Buffalo.

Schmitt-Carey has this to say about the superintendent search in Syracuse:

When the decision was made to seek new leadership, we knew it was critically important that the search be substantively grounded in leadership that embraces this theory of change [regarding the Say Yes approach to reform]. A lot of superintendents don't have this worldview. We have seen limitations around the country in the search process, where a search firm has a pool of candidates in place in different cities and in time, place them in in different cities.

We thought there would be a more effective way to develop a stronger pool of candidates who would lead this kind of effort.

We partnered with Cascade, which has a track record of recruiting the best and brightest -- people who were not looking for jobs. They have a very unique and effective screening process that is able to give school boards insight not only into resumes, but into how people work.

You really need to have somebody who knows how to be collegial and collaborative and transparent.

We partnered knowing we could help to really develop the excitement around coming to the City of Syracuse. When you're looking at the best and brightest, sometimes Buffalo and Syracuse don't come to the top of the list.

Contreras, she said, did not apply for the position in Syracuse, but Say Yes and Cascade "were able to engage her in a conversation."  

Backers of Say Yes say that the group did a good job conducting an open and transparent superintendent search that landed a candidate who otherwise would probably not have considered the opening.

Critics note that the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Oishei Foundation are heavily involved with efforts to bring Say Yes here -- and wonder whether they are trying to guide the superintendent search from behind the scenes. For some, this dredges up memories of the business community's efforts -- specifically, M&T Bank's Robert Wilmers' efforts -- six years ago to bring James Williams here.

"Wilmers had his turn. Now it's [Oishei President Robert] Gioia's?" one critic said.

Schmitt-Carey as well as local leaders and foundation officials -- including Gioia -- all say that the final decision on who to hire as superintendent rests with the School Board.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |