We were told at the last board meeting that the BOE and $20,000 search firm were preparing to invite participants to focus groups to solicit input from the community on the Superintendent search. My invitation probably got lost in the mail, so I decided to put my thoughts down on paper. I think we first have to understand the roles of the BOE and Superintendent and how they interconnect before we can understand the qualities we want in a school leader.
The Board of Education is very important, of course, but you have to realize these are normally people who have full time jobs and are volunteering their time to oversee the operations of the district. But make no mistake, the BOE sets the long term goals and gives the Superintendent his marching orders. They are responsible for ensuring that policies and procedures the Superintendent proposes are consistent with those goals. They have the final say on hiring decisions, curriculum changes, and facilities upgrades. However I believe the most important role of the BOE is to understand the will of the community. Each member should be talking to parents, teachers, children, and community members on a consistent basis. The worst thing that can happen is for a BOE to get side-swiped by issues the Superintendent has neglected to disclose.
The Superintendent is the most important person in the district in terms of implementing the vision and direction of the schools. He is the CEO, if you will, and is responsible for the day to day operations including instruction, financial performance, human resources, facilities maintenance, and community relations. That is a pretty tall order, but that's why they get paid the big bucks. This individual must be a proven leader in several key areas. Ideally, these are the qualities I would like to see in our next Superintendent:
1) Proven excellence in strategic planning and leadership. We have a strategic plan complete with goals and measurements. I think it's a good one. I would like to see the candidates go through the current plan and talk about how they will implement it. How will they measure performance and use those results to improve the schools from a strategic standpoint? Do they have a proven track record of developing, implementing, and managing a strategic plan? And if so, what were the results of that plan?
2) Proven excellence is implementing and administering curriculum. Curricula are constantly changing, whether it's special education, LA, science, math, or TAP. The Superintendent must know how to roll out these implementations seamlessly. Training staff is critical as is keeping costs down. I don't consider hiring pricey consultants to train staff a good financial decision. Maybe for the big ones, but district staff should be able to handle most training themselves (i.e. train the trainers).
3) Proven excellence in working with unionized staff. As much as many people would like to see unions disappear, it's not happening any time soon, especially in this district. The candidate must show that he has successfully negotiated union contracts and treated union staff as valued partners. The candidate should also prove that he has fostered a good working relationship with union leadership and kept the lines of communication open at all times.
4) Proven excellence in financial performance. Our district is currently in excellent health financially. However, that doesn't mean it will stay that way. We have aging facilities that need upgrading. Costs are rising all the time and who knows where tax revenue is headed. The candidate must have a proven track record of managing budgets and controlling costs. Personally I would like to see a candidate who is against administrative discretionary spending such as lunches, dinners, and vehicle expenses, to name a few. I would also like to see a candidate who supports pay for performance for BOTH the administration and teachers. You'd better walk on water to earn a 12% raise in the future.
And last, but certainly not least...
5) Proven excellence in working with parents. One TV show I used to love was Boston Public. In one episode the principal said to a teacher: "She is a parent but I prefer to call her by her other name...the customer." There is no reason why parents should not be treated as customers. The candidate must demonstrate a proven track record of great communication with parents and children. He must show that he is accessible and willing to listen to parent concerns and take immediate action. If action cannot be taken then a valid response must be given. The days of ignoring parent concerns must end.
This district can and should be one of the best in the state, if not the country. We have the resources and the concerned parent base to make it happen. Now all we need is a proven visionary to lead us to that goal. All the pieces are in place, including great staff and facilities. There is no reason to settle for anything less than the best candidate available. The bar cannot be set too high.