Beaufort Co. school district has spent $20K on search for new Hilton Head principal

The Beaufort County School District is using a national search firm to find a replacement for former Hilton Head Island Principal Amanda O’Nan and has spent nearly $20,000 in their efforts so far, a spokesperson for the district confirmed Tuesday.

This is the first time district administrators have used an outside firm to hire a principal at any district school, according to Jim Foster, public information officer for the school system.

When asked why the district turned to a search firm for help in this instance, Foster said the original posting for the position had not produced enough qualified candidates.

The decision to use the firm was made by former interim superintendent Herb Berg, Foster said.

The district is currently reviewing candidates to interview, he said, and the goal is to have someone in the position by Aug. 19, the first day of school.

Foster said that former interim superintendent Herb Berg made the decision to use the outside firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the same firm the school board used to hire district superintendent Frank Rodriguez this past spring.

Foster said the firm’s fee for the principal was $15,000, and that the district also spent $3,415 to advertise the position. Typically, the only costs associated with principal searches at other schools are advertising and staff time, Foster said.

Hilton Head High School was rocked by controversy last year when allegations resurfaced that O’Nan had conducted an on-campus sexual relationship with an on-duty Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy in 2016, something O’Nan has repeatedly denied.

O’Nan was placed on administrative leave by Berg in January pending an investigation into the allegations.

While O’Nan was placed on leave, parents and students at the high school rallied around her and threatened to campaign against November’s $345 million school bond referendum.

O’Nan was reprimanded by the state Department of Education in March. She resigned from her position and settled with the district in May for $35,000, in addition to the remainder of her salary for the last eight weeks of her contract.

Board of Education member JoAnn Orischak, who represents parts of Hilton Head, said in May that she still believes there may be a “pocket of resistance” in her district toward the referendum because of O’Nan’s resignation.

O’Nan was well-liked at the high school for raising graduation rates by more than 20 percentage points and expanding the school’s International Baccalaureate program during her tenure, which began in 2006.

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.