Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Question Of The Week: What Are Our School District's Priorities?

We’re pleased that Memphis City Schools has finally done what makes sense in finding a new superintendent. It began a national search.

It didn’t come without missteps and personal agendas, but at least it’s finally come. Of course, it remains to be proven that the process headed up by a national search firm isn’t going to be sabotaged by the board of commissioners’ low expectations and preconceived notions about the race, gender and zip code of the next superintendent.

To kick off the search process, the district – apparently at the direction of its search firm - posted a survey on its website to allow us to vote on the 32 qualities that we want in a new superintendent. The qualities range from the inane and irrelevant to the noble and the laudatory, but by and large, concentrating on personal qualities seems the wrong thing to focus on. After all, who really can disagree with any of these qualities?

To The Point

There’s no indication on the website about how the results of the poll will be used. The day after it went live, we learned from The Commercial Appeal that we were supposed to be selecting 10 qualities in the online poll. The website didn’t mention that fact for a couple of days, and even now, you can still vote for all 32 qualities if you like.

That said, at this point, we’re really not interested in whether the new superintendent inspires trust, is a good speaker, is cooperative, is able to delegate authority, possesses excellent people skills, possesses media skills, can develop strong relationships with the business community and has sound management experience.

More to the point, we think we should first be deciding as a community what our priorities are for our district. Then, we can align skills and experience of superintendent candidates to match those priorities.

Talk Priorities

That’s why it seems to us that we don’t need to be talking about qualities, but talking about priorities. It’s always seemed strange to us that in the midst of our current educational crisis – more than 100 schools that don’t meet state benchmarks, the poorest performance of the urban districts in Tennessee and overall declining academic performance – we still have no sense of what the district’s priorities are.

Here’s a couple of ours – decentralizing decision-making so that the central office is all about supporting schools rather than the other way around, and creating a system where schools are teacher-centered and data-driven.

So, here’s our question of the week:

What are the priorities for Memphis City School that should guide the search for a new superintendent?


Anonymous said...

There's a press release on Memphis City Schools' website dated March 6, 2008 that explains how the survey will be used.

March 6, 2008

Employees, Parents, Community Members Urged to Share Thoughts
on Search for Memphis City Schools' Next Superintendent
“32 Qualities” Online Survey Allows Community Members to Offer Input on the Ideal Candidate
MCS Superintendent Search to Be Discussed at Four Community Forums
Thursday, March 20
Memphis, Tenn. – A new Internet survey has been posted on the Memphis City Schools Web site, www.mcsk12.net, so that employees, parents and others in the community with a vested interest in the school district may play an integral role in the search for its next superintendent. The “32 Qualities” survey allows citizens to rank the most important characteristics they’d like to see in the next leader of Memphis City Schools.

The “32 Qualities” survey has been used to gather valuable community feedback for a number of superintendent searches in school districts nationwide. It can be accessed by clicking on the blue and white “MCS Superintendent Search” box located at the top of the district’s home page, www.mcsk12.net. Survey instructions are listed on the site.

In addition to providing input on the search via the online survey, employees, parents and community members are encouraged to attend one of five public forums that will be held on Thursday, March 20. The forums will be coordinated by consultants of Ray and Associates, the national search firm selected by the Board of Commissioners to help in the selection of the district’s next superintendent. At each forum, attendees will have an opportunity to learn about the search process, make comments and also turn in a written copy of the “32 Qualities” survey.

Below is a schedule of forums that will take place on March 20:
Manassas High School – 3 - 4 p.m.
Craigmont High School – 4:30 - 5:30 p.m.
Whitehaven High – 4:30 - 5:30 p.m.
Cordova High – 6:30 - 7:30 p.m.
White Station High – 6:30 - 7:30 p.m.

The final day to submit a survey response will be Friday, March 21. All information gathered during this period will be used to prepare a feedback report for Memphis Board of Education Commissioners at the next Superintendent Search Committee meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 27.

Anonymous said...

While the press release says "The '32 Qualities' survey allows citizens to rank the most important characteristics they’d like to see in the next leader of Memphis City Schools." There is no ranking mechanism in the way it is being conducted and there is no limit to the number of responses one can check. This is the maddening aspect of what we are getting from the on-line "survey" being conducted by MCS, and the point of SCM's point here. In short: garbage in and garbage out.

Anonymous said...

When I took the survey last week, the directions were posted at the beginning of the survey - select only 10 qualities. The results will be ranked according to how many respondents select each quality.

Anonymous said...

I would certainly agree with your two and would add Transparency and Accountability.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:49,
There were no instructions when I looked at it shortly after it was posted. Happy to hear that this has been corrected. However, I agree with SCM, we need to have a discussion about what our priorities for the district are then we can define the set of indivdiual characteristics our superintendent needs to have.

Anonymous said...

Accountability is important. We all need to attend the discussions next week and make our opinions known. I plan to attend the one at White Station.

Anonymous said...

From the Christian Science Monitor, here's a paragraph that should be key to Memphis:

"That wholesale staff turnover – giving a new principal the ability to shape who's working for him or her – is the most crucial element to a turnaround's success, says Mr. Calkins of Mass Insight, but it's not the only one. Other key elements are added time for teachers to plan and collaborate, longer school days or school years, clustering turnaround schools so they can learn from one another, local authority over budget and curricula, and support for teachers and administrators from outside the school, such as the district or an outside group like AUSL."

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 12:26 a.m. -

It would have been helpful if MCS had included the release into the survey so people would have some context before voting and some understanding of how the results would be used. If a visitor to the MCS website sees the banner about voting on the survey, it's unlikely that person is going to read the release unless they are combined.

So what is a "feedback report" and how will it be used in the search process?

More to the point, if MCS really wants to know what citizens think about the skills needed by the next superintendent and what that person's priorities ought to be, it should conduct a scientific poll that would have serious credibility in the discussion and would allow the many Memphians without access to computers to be heard.

Anonymous said...

How about principals who are given authority to run their own schools? It's principals that make the difference.

Anonymous said...

We need to set improved student learning as a priority and hire someone who's head of a district where progress is being seen. Quit talking and do something to get grades up.

Anonymous said...

The qualities survey is a complete waste. We need to focus on finding someone who is experienced in education, has performed successfully in a similar role in the past, is talented, and has a priorities and a desire to improve the Memphis school disrict. All the qualitative factors are nice and dandy, but really all we want is performance. Interview people and make a decision. Don't waste time holding the public's hand. Make a decision and make it fast. It's really not that hard.

Anonymous said...

and black.