put my ear to the railroad tracks and I hear a rumbling sound. Something's coming! Our local schools are going to get a new superintendent and people who care are talking.
Push play on my answering machine, click "send and receive" on my email, or go to the grocery store. There are a lot of opinions floating around. But one predominates!
I did some research regarding what school boards go through when they need to hire a new superintendent. Let's discuss this.
There are two main paths boards go down to locate a new leader. They look locally or they hire a headhunter. Headhunters conduct broader searches, typically resulting in recruitment from out of town or out of state. Local searches scrutinize our own homegrown talent pool. The methods are somewhat similar - advertise, seek input, interview, investigate. It is the result that is very, very different.
The crux of the matter is that essentially every person who is calling me is saying: "We want a local person in this job." I hear ya'. You're comin' in loud and clear!
Why do people seem to prefer a local search?
First of all, there is the dedication factor. Our schools face some of the most challenging issues ever confronted by schools. Dedication is required for this daunting task. If we didn't have such an awesome community and so many wonderful, hard-working people living here and so much terrific support in the business community, our schools would be sorry places indeed. They are not. When you visit our schools, you see many remarkably positive learning experiences going on.
The dedication factor is manifested by teachers and school staff who ‹ day after day, year after year ‹ carry with them the enthusiasm, energy and lesson plan required to make the day turn out well.
The dedication factor is manifested by parents who "work like crazy" to support their family and then turn up in the evening with a casserole for a school potluck!
The dedication factor is manifested by administrators who do their business in high gear, some who put in 12 hour days yet are not too busy for a kind word and a handshake for a teacher, student or parent.
If one is dedicated to the education of the children of this community, one can pull from that dedication the stamina required to work until the job is done. Dedication to our schools and our students is strongly related to one's ties and commitment to our community.
Then there's the trust factor. Whom do you trust? I trust my family, my friends, and community members who have built a reputation of being trustworthy by the lives they lead and the promises they keep. The attitude that goes with being "one of us" enhances the trust factor.
Then there is the talent factor. Look around you at our schools. There are skillful, talented folks out there. It's true that most of them have never been a superintendent before! But there are those with strong experience in the field.
Some are fantastic facilitators, people with special skills who smooth out the bumps in a meeting by saying the magic words ‹ whatever they are! Some are extremely intelligent people who figure out plans to stretch those educational dollars. Some are inspirational leaders who rally the troops behind good ideas and make things happen.
Certain issues get debated when it comes time to talk about promoting from within. There is the fear that jealousy and resentment could poison the work atmosphere. There is the issue that a promotion creates a vacancy that has to be filled. Personally, I don't find those concerns valid. I believe there is a pervasive desire to have a competent, dedicated leader who is in it for the long haul and that cooperation is the norm on our team.
Then there's the issue of experience. Is it important that the person has a track record of having been a superintendent before? Well, consider this. How many times have we elected a president of the United States who has never been president before?
Yes, some experience is required. But a lot of people feel that dedication to the community, being a known and trustworthy person, and being a skillful leader are more important than superintendent notches on a resume.
Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and is currently the Vice-president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian May 18, 2002. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.
© Sandra Nichols 2002