An Attempt At Engagement Falls Flat


Sign.jpgThe best way to predict the future is to create it

Steve Zimmer and George McKenna made clear where their loyalties lie when they joined Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez to block public access to the finalists in the search for a new Superintendent. At the October 13th Board meeting, Monica Ratliff proposed a resolution that would have made “the finalists public, but her effort failed.” With Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic voting “yes,” only one more vote was needed to ensure an open process. Despite the significant support that both Zimmer and McKenna have received from the supporters of public education in past elections, neither felt that the public deserved a final say on who will be the next leader of  our district.

While the public will have no say in who is chosen, the District is asking for input on the qualities the stakeholders are seeking in the new Superintendent. Under the PR-sounding heading of “Your Voice Counts,” the search firm hired by the district is conducting an online survey and two weeks of community forums. Certainly, any move towards community engagement is welcome in the District, but both of these attempts are flawed and will do little to ensure that students, parents or community members will have a say in the selection. To make someone’s voice count, they must not only be allowed to speak, they must be heard.

Stakeholders will have through Wednesday, October 28, to take the online survey. Unfortunately, it was not developed by local staff who would have a better understanding of the issues specific to our District. Instead it is copywritten by ECRA Group, Inc. and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the executive search firm and an ECRA subsidiary. The introductory paragraph is essentially the standard one that has been used in a wide variety of searches, including ones for the Blue Valley Board of Education, the Cambridge Public Schools, the City Schools of Decatur, the Montville Township Board of Education, Stamford Public Schools and the Wilton Public Schools. More importantly, many of the questions asked were not really thought provoking. For example, is there anyone who feels that it is not important to “promote the importance of providing safe and caring school environments?” Shouldn’t this be a given? At least the survey did provide a space for an open ended answer to the request to “add any additional comments you wish to make regarding what you believe are necessary characteristics for a superintendent.”

The first problem with the District’s efforts to drive attendance to the public input sessions was the fact that these meetings were not listed by school sites or election districts. The clear disconnect between Beaudry and the general public is shown by the fact that the District’s bureaucrats would describe an event as the “Local District-West Community Forum” and think that anyone who does not work for the District would know the location that they were talking about. This may be one of the reasons why all four of the events that I participated in last week were sparsely attended with ten to 23 attendees each. While these meetings all provided an insight into what the stakeholders were looking for in a Superintendent, it was more interesting to hear how the complaints were similar for each of the three different sites. Breakfast in the Classroom, special education failures, the need for arts and vocational classes and an overemphasis on standardized testing were some examples of commonality in Sunland, North Hills and Granada Hills.

Another possible factor contributing to the lack of participation may be the public’s perception that their input is not actually wanted by the Board and that their minds may already be made up. It is interesting that Zimmer writes of the public being “involved in helping to shape the conversation,” but excludes them from the actual conversation. The survey tells the public that the information provided “will be used by the Board to determine the desired characteristics of our next Superintendent,” but they will not be allowed to judge if the chosen candidates meet these characteristics. Stakeholders will get a chance at the microphone for the beginning of the process but will be asked to be quiet while those in charge make the final decision “at this important moment in the history of our school district.”