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City Life: Community's input is vital during superintendent search

April 10, 2012|By Steve Smith

Last week's list of recommendations for the qualities of the new school superintendent was incomplete.

Wendy Frankel, a reader with 40 years of teaching experience, wrote to me that it is important to select someone who is "willing to substitute [teach] 10 days a year in actual classrooms in the district."

"No one knows what goes on in a classroom in a 10-minute visit, especially when everyone in the school knows the superintendent is coming to visit," she added. "In fact, I think it should be a requirement that every administrator in a school district, and that includes school board members, be on the sub list and sub in classrooms eight to 10 days a year."

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Frankel's comment reflects the importance of ensuring that our decision-makers are more in touch with day-to-day classroom operations. There is far too much time spent in meetings.

The key qualities for the new superintendent, based on comments at the district-sponsored community input sessions, reveal he or she should be trustworthy, honest, transparent and have a high level of integrity. Those are qualities for anyone in any position, but particularly important when it comes to educating our kids.

My own additional thought is that the new superintendent must be someone not currently employed in the district. This is important because, as with any bureaucracy, existing relationships, loyalties and an ingrained mindset on how things are supposed to be done are detrimental to the progress needed at the 11 Costa Mesa schools that are in Program Improvement (PI) status.

These schools and their stakeholders — the teachers, administrators, parents and students — need someone with fresh eyes, someone who can make quick, viable recommendations based on what he or she knows has worked in similar circumstances, and who can make them without concern over politics and egos.

The focus on the 11 PI schools prompted a few comments in the meetings from Newport Beach parents, who have concerns that the emphasis on improving the Costa Mesa schools may result in the neglect of their own.

This concern is understandable and appreciated. If I were the parent of a child in a high-performing school, I would do what I could to preserve and protect that status. But the attempt to improve Costa Mesa's schools is not a zero-sum effort; that is, the Costa Mesa schools will not be improved at the expense of the Newport schools.

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