Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hiring a new superintendent is NOT the most important thing

A lot of people--school board candidates not least among them--are anxious about the hiring of the new superintendent for Tacoma schools.  Just the other day I heard two candidates--Karen Vialle and Dexter Gordon--name that in their answer to a question about one policy they'd pursue if elected.

The answer was something of a non sequitur, as expressing the importance of hiring the superintendent isn't really a policy, but we can give some license there because the more relevant point is that hiring the new superintendent really isn't that least not in the way most people--Vialle and Gordon among them--think.

If we go out on a big national search (as I've heard Gordon say we must) we'll end up with some sort of education high-flyer.  Somebody who professes expertise and wisdom in the reform process.  They'll likely promise, at least implicitly, dramatic results and fast.  The new superintendent (or what I prefer to call überintendent) will arrive with a sense of purpose and mandate to show progress on all the indicators that are low in Tacoma.  This likely means a kind of administrative forcefulness and top-down orientation that will not endear the überintendent to the community and will not rebuild the deeply frayed trust.  (I've written of this before.)

What I think we really want is someone who has the patience to discern what already works in Tacoma and the relational capacity to rebuild trust by building on what is working.  This person may be an education reform stalwart, but doesn't necessarily have to be.  None of the last several superintendents has lived up to this hype.

And that may be okay.  If we hype less--by not overblowing the need to get an überintendent--and relate more, we won't be in such a panic to get everything done next year...with the latest surefire curriculum...applied through another round of professional trainings promised to be the one that will solve our problems.

Rather, we can all just get to the slow steady work of improving education and raising performance of our students.

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