OAKLAND — Would-be Oakland school principals take note: The days of the panel interview are over. Candidates who look good on paper and answer tough questions with finesse will have to dig deeper than ever.

On Thursday, those vying to become principals at Joaquin Miller Elementary School or Montera Middle School — or both — had to critique a videotaped lesson, calm a room full of angry and skeptical parents, and contend with a father who showed up at their office accusing them of failing to do their jobs.

"I don't think there's a more important decision that we make," said Eric Nelson, a central office administrator who oversees a network of elementary schools, including Joaquin Miller. "It's worth putting people through the wringer."

In the past, the Oakland school district has incorporated various degrees of role-playing and community involvement inthe selection of its school leaders, but the process wasn't consistent from school to school until midway through the past school year, said Joel Baum, a leadership development manager for the district.

Baum is mapping out a plan to create a jury pool of sorts with hundreds of teachers, parents and district staff from throughout the city.

Next February and March, at the height of recruiting season, the candidates who survived the paper and initial interview screening — conducted at the central office — will do their best to convince the community they are fit to lead an Oakland school.

A smaller group of parents and staff will then work with district managers to match those who "passed" the daylong interview with particular schools. The district administrator gives a recommendation to the state administrator, who makes the final decision.

Those involved in the most recent round of interviews — following the unexpected resignations of the Joaquin Miller and Montera principals this summer — ended the day with an honest, thought-provoking and sometimes intense conversation about the four candidates whom they had judged and rated.

Did they know how to give constructive feedback to teachers? Did they seem to really listen to parents, or just go through the motions? Did they talk too much, or give answers just because they sounded good?

Many said they felt a refreshing sense of optimism about the future of their schools, and the roles that they — and people like them — will play in the crucial decision.

Jamie Woolf, a Joaquin Miller parent, jotted her thoughts down on a note: "I've been consulting to corporations and public sector organizations for over 20 years on recruitment, selection and interviewing, and this so exceeded my expectations in terms of creativity, innovation, sophistication, democracy — I'm so impressed!"

The candidates, too, praised the draining process. One suggested the school district "package it and sell it."

"Whether or not I get a job or not, it was a useful opportunity for me, as an educator, to reflect on what I'm doing," another candidate said. "You really had a conversation with yourself more than anybody else."

They find out in the coming week just how that conversation went.

Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog can be view at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.