School board President Maria Hilton announced the appointment in an email to district families on May 6, saying Mr. Ghysels "possesses an impressive depth of educational and business leadership experience and a demonstrated passion for excellence."
Mr. Ghysels will replace Ken Ranella, who began his tenure as district superintendent in 2002 and announced his retirement, effective June 30, in January.
The board still must ratify the contract — and is set to do so on May 10 — but until that happens, the district won't disclose Mr. Ghysels' salary and benefits, Mr. Ranella said.
Mr. Ghysels, who was one of six finalists for the position, has since last July served as the chief schools officer for the Office of Education in Santa Clara County, managing a staff of 1,400 providing services to about 50,000 students in 32 districts, according to Ms. Hilton's prepared statement.
Before taking that position, he was superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, beginning that job in 2005. The end of his tenure there was overshadowed by a controversy that brewed over his romantic relationship with a principal of one of the schools he oversaw. He and the principal, Carmen Mizell, were married to other people and were in the process of filing for divorce when they informed the school board of their relationship.
The announcement in 2009 caused an outcry by some members of the school community, some of whom complained that a conflict of interest existed, particularly in light of Ms. Mizell's transfer in 2008 to a high-performing school, according to an Oct. 26, 2009, article in the Mountain View Voice. Other parents and community members stated their continuing support for both the superintendent and the principal, the Voice reported.
After informing the school board of the relationship, Mr. Ghysels changed district protocol to allow Ms. Mizell to report to the assistant superintendent rather than him as a way to avoid a conflict of interest, the Voice reported.
In November 2009, Mr. Ghysels informed the school board that he was looking for work outside the district, and the board publicly announced soon after that "our team has been discussing an internal succession plan for quite some time," according to a Nov. 11 article in the Voice.
Mr. Ghysels could not be reached for comment for this story.
Ms. Hilton early this week said board members "knew about (the relationship with the principal) even prior to interviewing him," and after "doing our due diligence" were satisfied that Mr. Ghysels' conduct in Mountain View shouldn't disqualify him for the Menlo Park position.
During the course of investigating Mr. Ghysels' work history, board members "conducted extensive on-site interviews at both the Mountain View Whisman District and the (county office of education), which included many staff, administrators, parents and community members," she said in the prepared statement.
"These individuals consistently described Dr. Ghysels as a dynamic and collaborative leader who always puts the needs of students first."
Ms. Hilton also said that the relationship with a subordinate wasn't the reason Mr. Ghysels left his post in Mountain View. "It's my understanding that Dr. Ghysels had made a personal commitment to serve (the Mountain View district) for five years," she said. During that time, she added, Mr. Ghysels created a transitional plan, grooming Craig Goldman, a principal promoted to an assistant superintendent post, to take over when he left.
Mr. Ghysels began his career as a high school teacher and principal, according to Ms. Hilton's written statement. He went on to serve as a middle school principal, then was appointed deputy superintendent/chief operations officer of the Campbell Union School District.
His career also includes a five-year stint at Citibank, Ms. Hilton said, adding that during his years in the business world, "his responsibilities included training and professional development in executive coaching, communication skills and project management."
Review of the superintendent appointment is on the agenda for a Tuesday, May 10, closed-session meeting. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m., and soon after the board is expected to ratify the contract with Mr. Ghysels in a public session.
At 6 p.m., the board will host a "welcome reception" for Mr. Ghysels before its regular 7 p.m. meeting. The meetings and the reception will be in the district office at 181 Encinal Ave. in Menlo Park.