The Fairfax County School Board voted Monday evening to seal off its superintendent search rather than let the community meet the candidates that it will consider to replace Jack Dale.
Only a select few residents, involved in the county's parent-teacher association and other high-profile advocacy groups, will know any information about the would-be superintendent until he or she is named in May.
Hank Gmitro, the lead consultant with search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, told the school board that a more open process often scares off the most qualified applicants -- successful superintendents of other counties -- who don't want to alienate their communities.
"It's a little bit like asking your spouse, to say, 'I'm really happy with you, but I'd like to speak to another potential spouse. If it doesn't work out with them, I'd like to come back to you,' " Gmitro told the school board.
He referred to a superintendent who was turned down for the top job in a North Carolina school district, and then his home school board did not renew his contract.
Ted Velkoff, who voted to close off the search, said he understood that the school board was playing a high-stakes game: "We're the Cincinnati Bengals, and we're hoping [head coach Bill] Belichick at the New England Patriots is going to leave his job."
Under the option chosen by the school board, no names of candidates will be released publicly, but a committee of staff and community members will interview finalists and provide feedback to the board.
But some members of the board advocated for a more open search, saying parents and teachers deserved the chance to interact with the man or woman who would be at the helm of their school system for years. "I think it's incumbent on us to say, 'OK, I need you to be all chips in,' " said Elizabeth Schultz, the board's Springfield District representative.
To Gmitro's marriage metaphor, Schultz replied, "We're not sister-wives."
Ultimately, the board voted 9-3 to make the candidates' names confidential except to a select committee, as did Montgomery County Public Schools when it selected Superintendent Joshua Starr in 2011.
In addition to the committee, the board will hold at least six public community forums to gather general feedback about the qualities desired in the next schools chief.