May 20, 2005

Commentary:

Envisioning a New School Superintendent

By Ernie McCray

Although not many people participated in meetings regarding the characteristics that the next San Diego City Schools superintendent should possess, a survey of those who did take part indicates that this person should have the “ability and willingness to deal directly and fairly with faculty, staff, students and parents.”

Such a sentiment representing board members, administrators, people from the community at-large, teachers, parents and district support staff, I’m sure, has come about because no one has been listened to in any way - fairly or unfairly or directly or indirectly - in six years when it comes to school matters. The reason why only a few people responded is because, sadly, there is little to no trust in any process that involves San Diego City Schools.

So the next superintendent must be someone the community can trust, someone proven above all to be a decent open minded human being who appreciates and listens intently and actively to all who are concerned - including children. The students.

To counter what to me is a glaring omission the new superintendent should be so child/student oriented that it practically shows in all his or her words and actions. Students should know who the superintendent is and what the superintendent stands for when it comes to them.

The new superintendent would do well to face the challenge of dealing with a bare bones budget by considering, at every step of the way, how students are impacted. This person should understand at a deep level that in a multifaceted complicated troubled world like ours when any subject or extracurricular program is eliminated some segment of students loses interest and drops out.

The new superintendent would be wise to conduct school business and meetings in an open and inclusive manner and the rationale for decisions made should be well thought out and relevant to the district’s vision and mission for students.

The Board of Education owes it to the community to point out to applicants for the superintendency that they would inherit a school system that has invested heavily in preparing teachers to use researched based teaching methods and philosophies and this momentum should be maintained. But, at the same time, these applicants must be made to understand, in no uncertain terms, that they truly and absolutely must exhibit the”ability and willingness to deal directly and fairly with faculty, staff, students and parents” for an important reason: the prior administration was so abusive and disrespectful that morale in San Diego City Schools is as low as morale can go - most likely lower than any morale they have ever seen.

In many ways the last six years has seen the school system turned inside out and upside down and we need a superintendent who can, through humanistic means, turn it all around. We, of course, need a superintendent who possesses fiscal and organizational and instructional and technological expertise and the like but more than that we need someone who is truly special. We need a superintendent who can not only express a positive and forward thinking vision regarding educating young people but can do so replete with examples of how he/she has implemented such a vision in their past work.

The community should eventually hear from this person firsthand accounts of what they have done well and how it was done along with, perhaps, what they have done that’s made them want to kick him or herself. The rationale being that we learn from both our accomplishments and our failures.

In this sharing it should be evident that the new superintendent is dedicated to creating a learning environment that honors the rich diversity of our city’s students. Students, no matter who they are, should sense that there’s something in it for them, something unique and exciting, something that will prepare them to go out and make their mark in the world as loving learned human beings who are respectful of all people - just like their superintendent. We should expect nothing less for our children.

Ernie McRay is a retired San Diego city schools principal.

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