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Feb 4, 201109:30 AMEducation Matters

Superintendent Search: Waiting for Superman

Feb 4, 2011 - 09:30 AM

Wanted: Superman (or woman) to run top-notch school system facing severe budget woes. Must be politically savvy, hard-charging and a good listener with integrity who will always put education first, and meet the needs of the “whole” child while maintaining high standards in a highly diverse district serving nearly 142,000 students.

Oh, and an open-door policy would be nice, too.

Those are just some of the characteristics that local parents and teachers say they want in a new superintendent to replace Jerry D. Weast, who will retire in June after running Montgomery County Public Schools for 12 years.

Dozens of parents and teachers have shared their concerns, hopes and ideas during six public forums held throughout the county this week by Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, an Illinois executive search firm hired by the Board of Education.

HYA also has been meeting in focus groups with administrators, teachers, community leaders and representatives of advocacy groups involved with the schools. All told, the firm will have conducted 50 focus groups and forums over an eight-day period as part of the search process, HYA President Hank Gmitro says.

The firm is asking all groups to respond to three questions: What’s working well in county schools? What are the concerns and challenges? What are the desired characteristics of a new superintendent?

Gmitro says he and his colleagues have been hearing plenty, both good and bad, from those who’ve attended the sessions. The firm will compile the input as well as responses from an online survey, into a report to be presented Feb. 14 to the board. About 1,200 people have filled out the survey, which can be found here. Today, Friday, Feb. 4, is the final day to submit the survey.

Although the hiring of a new superintendent will have a major impact on MCPS, the public forums are only drawing from a couple dozen to 50 people per session. Gmitro says that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “People who are generally happy don’t come out and participate in the process,” he says. “A lot of people see this as a board decision.”

At a public forum held Tuesday night at Bethesda Elementary School, a group of about two dozen parents, teachers and other residents didn’t waste much time discussing what MCPS does right, but went for the jugular with a host of familiar concerns: worries about kids being pushed too fast and stressed out, overcrowded schools, growing class sizes, lack of equality in services for special ed kids, and lack of foreign language classes for younger kids.

“We are pushing way too fast and way too hard,” one mom said as heads nodded around the all-purpose room where the session took place.

Parents also worried about the impact of the county’s budget crisis on schools.

“I would hope that a new superintendent would have the guts to be able to fight the attempts to reduce the budget,” said one woman, who added that she’d be willing to pay higher taxes to save the school budget.

A mom and MCPS elementary school teacher commended Weast’s efforts to bring equity to all MCPS students, but thought things had gone too far. “We need to find somebody who knows one size rarely fits all,” she said.

She drew applause when she noted that the new superintendent has to be somebody “who cares a little less about his national reputation.”

Another parent wanted a leader who’d be willing to clean house and get rid of underperforming teachers and administrators: “We need someone who will push those teachers out.”

Quite the full plate for a new superintendent. Think anyone will want the job?

Old to new | New to old
Feb 8, 2011 08:46 am
 Posted by  Michelle

That's a tall order! As a teacher and a parent in the district, I hope they find someone great. We have to be realistic, though -- no one is going to be all things to all people. That said, if the new superintendent can keep us from losing ground in these tough times, that would be an amazing start. I do wonder who would even want the job, but more power to anyone who does.

Feb 8, 2011 09:13 am
 Posted by  Dave Haaga

It pays well and is a prestigious position, so I'm sure they'll draw plenty of interest from ambitious educational administrators. I'm not surprised by the poor turnout at forums. These wish-list compilations are always pretty unrealistic when done in a vaccuum. Need to see who applies and start comparing,so that it is anchored in reality, as opposed to just piling on more desired characteristics.

Feb 14, 2011 07:08 am
 Posted by  dmsf

I do appreciate that MCPS offered the community the opportunity to give input. What will they do with that input, though? The responses they get will be as diverse as the population of the county, with just as many competing interests and concerns. I am struck by the mother who worries that her children are being pushed too hard and too soon, and I caution her to be careful what she wishes for. I doubt she would be happy to have her children in a high school that does not offer AP, GT, Honors, IB, or the like. It will be interesting to see how the Board of Education reconciles this contradiction when considering input from the community, and how this looks to someone considering the Superintendent job.

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