Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hiring a School Superintendent

Last night, I had a very good conversation with several parents and teachers, and it set me to thinking more specifically about the next superintendent.  My conversation partners all agreed that we ought to undertake the search for the new superintendent with a real mind to considering a local candidate...someone of the community, who knows the community.

It makes good sense, to at least look seriously--even intentionally--for a 'local.'  The last several candidates from outside the local community have not always made the necessary connections to the people and issues here.

Moreover, in the current climate the stakes are high for a new superintendent, but all too often in the wrong way.  Say we do an extensive and expensive search--through a search firm, no doubt--and get a high-flying education visionary.  Upon arrival, this new superintendent will likely feel the need to show results, and fast.  The impulse to change will be strong, and will push down from the top.  Test scores and other standardized and objective measures will tend to get elevated above other less quantifiable goals.  The ability to patiently determine what already works might be overridden by the desire to show 'improvement' quickly.  Community engagement could become more difficult through all this.

This is not to say that a local candidate would necessarily overcome or transcend all these problems.  This is to say that I think these problems are more likely with an outsider coming in.   Recent superintendents seem to have to arrived partly with the purpose of proving their visionary status as much or more than serving the needs of Tacoma students.

Let's at least consider our own history when hiring a new superintendent.  And let's look for someone who knows that building relationships in community engagement creates a climate conducive to improving schools.  Community engagement is not a parallel or adjunct process in the drive to improve schools.

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