(Note: This is my Daily Pilot column from April 3, 2012 – three years ago. At the time, the school board was searching for a new superintendent. When you read it, you will understand how after all of the screening was completed, we wound up with a super who has us operating in the red with no real effect on the improvement of Costa Mesa’s Westside elementary schools. Oh, and we have a few more scandals and controversies, too.)
City Life: Ten requirements for the next superintendent
Twelve people on a jury can convict someone of murder and, in some states, give the possibility that he will be sentenced to death.
There are countries in which one person makes the decision to go to war.
The list of the sections of the community from which the candidates were selected reads more like a team created not because it brings some particular education expertise to the table, but because someone did not want to exclude or offend anyone. This huge committee all but guarantees competing priorities, so to help smooth the process, here is a list of qualities, credentials and experience on which the Newport-Mesa Unified committee should focus.
Eleven Costa Mesa schools are on Program Improvement status, meaning there are specific actions that must be taken because they are not meeting various academic goals. A few of these schools are just flat out failing.
So, first and foremost, the new superintendent should have success in turning around failing schools. It is so important that it is a deal-breaker. Those without turnaround experience need not apply. This requirement isn’t only first, it is second and third as well.
Fourth, the new superintendent must have his or her fiscal priorities in order. If the new superintendent supports an annual travel and conference budget of $221,052 while some teachers are asking for Ticonderoga pencils, the new superintendent had better be able to draw a direct line from the meetings to school improvement.
Fifth, the superintendent should have a higher sense of accountability than his predecessors or the current members of the school board. For instance, every conference or meeting off-site should be followed up by a written report or summary stating whom was there, what was discussed, and most important, what was learned that will help our schools and how and when it will be implemented.
Sixth, the new schools chief should have a thick skin. The candidate should invite criticism, even if those delivering it don’t always provide a solution.
Seventh, the new superintendent should have experience with written travel guidelines to prevent any misuse of public funds. There is no need for a task force to develop the guidelines, as there are hundreds of them in existence.
Eighth, the new superintendent should have experience in long- and short-term goal-setting and developing not only the appropriate strategies and tactics to achieve them, but also the checkpoints along the way to ensure that the proper course is being followed.
Ninth, the new superintendent will understand the importance of developing a lobbying effort in Sacramento to reduce the amount of curriculum required of many courses in our schools. Many teachers have too much to teach. Reducing the curriculum will help ensure that what does get taught will get taught well.
Tenth, we need to find someone who won’t mind if teachers speak out. When teachers at some campuses approach a newspaper columnist with information instead of approaching a principal or district official, they do so because they fear retaliation. This is not the atmosphere we want for the people who have to teach our children.
Finally, the new superintendent will understand that our school district is comprised of two unique education communities and that homogenization of the schools in each should be avoided. Public funds should be fairly distributed among the schools in the district, of course, but any foundation or other additional revenue that is generated should stay in that school unless the foundation or other fundraising entity decides otherwise.
See? Selecting a new superintendent is easy!