A sparse crowd showed up at the Superintendent Search public input session at Rondo Education Center in St. Paul on September 17. Participants were invited to share their ideas on what qualities they would like to see in the new superintendent.
Diana McCauley, senior associate with the search team Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, facilitated the discussion that was held as part of the ongoing process leading up to the hiring of a new superintendent to replace Meria Carstarphen who left the district in June. Part of that process includes developing a profile of leadership qualities expected in the next superintendent. Participants were given a leadership profile assessment to turn in after the session. Surveys are also available at the St. Paul Public Schools website.
Some common themes emerged as participants expressed the qualities they think are important – they want someone local who knows the community and the issues; the superintendent reports to the school board, not vice versa; the racial achievement gap needs to be closed.
When a man commented that there was not a single school board member present at the meeting, McCauley said that they were not there “on purpose.” She said, “Their presence has a tendency to stifle the level of candor.”
Barbara Sommers once taught in the Saint Paul Public Schools at Roosevelt and Longfellow Elementary Schools, both scheduled to be closed after the 2009-2010 school year. She said, “I am proud of my district with its rich multi-cultural environment.”
She added, “The new superintendent will need the personality of an inclusive person.”
Sommers said, “It saddens me that so few people voted in the school board primary election [held on September 15] and that so few people are here tonight.”
When the discussion turned to the large number of properly-licensed school district employees who could potentially apply for the superintendent position, one man in the audience said that he had talked to some of them and they were not interested.
Vanessa Levingston, a graduate of Saint Paul Public Schools, spoke of the need to close the racial achievement gap, and said, “It does cause a workforce gap.”
Levingston said, “We want someone local, who has a commitment, and is willing to collaborate with the community, families, government, and the business world.”
Roger Banks is a policy and research analyst for the State Council of Black Minnesotans. He emphasized the importance of judging all candidates by the criteria set by the school board, for example, administrative experience. He said, “It doesn’t do justice…to focus on ‘parochial’ interests.”
One woman, a native of Puerto Rico, stressed the importance of providing support to the immigrant families, but also to “use those parents and their gifts to make it better.”
Another woman said it is important that the new superintendent be committed to addressing the needs of special education students.
Al Oertwig, former school board member, said the community is looking for commitment for longer service than the two previous superintendents. He said, “We have hired twice in looking for a ‘guru’ in achievement. Now we need to put a system of accountability in place.”
He added, “We need to restore the relationship between the school board, the superintendent, staff and communities working together.”
When asked if the salary offered by the Saint Paul School District is competitive, McCauley replied that it is in the “competitive range.”
The search team will select finalists who will then be interviewed by members of the school board. The board then will make the final decision and select the new superintendent. McCauley said she expects the search should be completed, with the new superintendent selected, by the end of January 2010.