Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Report from the Field

I went to one of the private Superintendent Search forums to which some of us received invitations. It was held at Carver. The session facilitator was retired Howard County Superintendent Mike Hickey from the search firm consultants, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA) that the BOE has hired. In all there were four of us (including me). I think it was the community organizations meeting, but I am not sure.

There were three major questions that were asked, and the discussion was open. Mr. Hickey listened, asked follow-up questions, and took a lot of notes. Lastly, he asked if anyone knows of any candidates. So, if you do, be sure to call (847-724-8465) or email HYA.

First Question: What are the strengths of MCPS?

Answers: The diversity. The special ed. Some experience with a child with disabilities, and child received wonderful support from the school. Great mix of different people in our community, a great mix of immigrants, Latino/as, African-American, Asian, S. Asian, different religions, etc., and also very supportive of gay kids, etc. It is the community that makes this happen as well as the atmosphere in the schools.

There was also a brief discussion about charter schools; some people were concerned especially with a possible lack of oversight, some people were encouraging. All said, it was something a new superintendent would have to deal with.

Others said, the partnerships and community partnerships, with parents, and with other institutions, like educational institutions, for example, Montgomery College, Johns Hopkins.  The outreach.

Second question: What are important issues and challenges?

Answers: Closing the achievement gap. Charter schools. Need to be transparent, with both the budget and the curriculum, especially given the economy and fiscal reality over the next few years.

It is important for the new superintendent to be present, to be here in our schools and classrooms and not off out of town a lot. That the superintendent should focus on our kids; should have lunch with them, visit classrooms, really know the children. There are places where the superintendent, for example, teaches a class. Others added, should get to know the teachers and be in the classroom for that as well, that once the classroom door closes, you don’t really know the teacher, so we need a superintendent that knows the teachers in the classroom. We all agreed we need a superintendent who wants to be HERE and will focus on OUR kids.

People said it was important for more outreach to reach people that don’t usually get on the internet, or come into the school.

Need much more focus on early learning. There will be more children who may not go to college, and we should have good programs for those children.

Important to have a two-way street, and be more nimble and flexible. As one example, there is a great community partner in Montgomery Victory Gardens for school gardens, but because everything is so bureaucratic and controlled, we miss a lot of opportunities.

Third Question: What about the new superintendent? What are qualities you would like to see? The style?

Answers: Some said, areas of expertise, with education, a good administrator. Familiar with larger urban schools and running a large urban school system. Should capitalize on other education resources (e.g., Montgomery College, U-MD). We are right next to the capitol of the United States; MCPS should make more use of that connection. Someone who is comfortable in his own skin. We have had the model of the ‘Superintendent as CEO;’ would like to see a model of a ‘Superintendent as leader of a community of scholars.’ Would like to see the model of a Superintendent similar to the president of a college; someone who is a scholar, who did the research, got a degree, and is familiar with scholarship. We have enough support at Carver, for finances, etc., to be able to have a scholar as the superintendent.

Mr. Hickey asked, what if there were candidates outside of the education field? What do people think of that? There was some discussion of the pros and cons of that possibility.

Someone said, should be able to work with community partners.

Listening quality, be able to listen. Someone who is a good listener.

Other Comments:
The BOE should not be fooled by a lot of rhetoric when interviewing the candidates.

This particular board is very passive, and it would be good if the Board knows this, and there is a good fit between the superintendent and this Board. Would like to see a Board that is more active in terms of direction. Mr. Hickey said as a reminder, the Board only has one employee, the superintendent. Everyone else is an employee of the superintendent.

HYA will complete a draft Leadership Profile Report. Mr. Hickey wasn’t sure if the public would see the draft; the final would be public, he thought. The draft may be discussed privately. It was pointed out that by law if there are closed sessions, they have to be announced and voted on at the public BOE meetings. The search is on the BOE agenda for Feb 14th.

Regarding the nature of this board (i.e., passive), Mr. Hickey said that HYA offers an option for work sessions on the roles of the Board and the Superintendent, and that the BOE has opted for these work sessions.

People asked, what about the rest of the process, the candidates? The interviews?

The candidates will not be known and we won’t know about the interviews most likely. Mr. Hickey pointed out candidates may be sitting superintendents with good relationships with their Boards and would not want it known publicly that they are looking around. He also pointed out that some states require by law that the candidates be announced prior to selection. Maryland is NOT one of those states.

Concern that these forums are not available and many people don’t even know there is a superintendent search. Mr. Hickey said that there were these forums, the public forums, and the online survey. Concern that people work two jobs; they don’t have the internet; they don’t attend these forums. Need to have them where people are. Suggestion: what about at the supermarket, like when you can easily get a flu shot, or the tables that are set up when it is election season.  Need to have them where the people are and where they go. Mr. Hickey said unfortunately, it is too late for that given the timeline. He said the Board is very aware of making sure a large population has input into the forums.

Bottom line, though: it is highly likely the actual selection most likely will be secret. We will only know when they announce the one final candidate. The announcement will be in April.

Paula Bienenfeld
Education Committee Chair, Montgomery County Civic Federation

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