Friday, April 06, 2007

Meet. Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson

Tonight, both in person at the Stanford Center and on television on the Seattle Channel, residents of Seattle met Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. My feelings about the second finalist for the superintendent's position were, again, mixed, but overall more positive.

My favorite quotes from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson:
- "The central office role is to build capacity and provide support for schools."
- "Courage is doing what you know is right for kids."

She responded well to questions about accountability, high school reform, and closing the achievement gap.
- We need to "look at brutal facts" about our schools and not just say that all our schools are good.
- High school reform requires smaller learning communities, connections between students and adults who care about them, preparation for jobs of the future, with a focus on technology literacy, ability to work in teams, and work with diverse groups of people.
- Closing the achievement gap means providing extra tutoring ("double dipping") during the day as well as extended time after the school day ends for those who need it.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson identified her core values as "honesty, integrity, collegiality, team, and transparency." I found her believable and straightforward. She responded to questions quickly, and usually briefly, which sometimes left us without enough details, but mostly, for me, was a welcome contrast to Dr. Thornton's long and sometimes rambling responses last night. However, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was weakest where Dr. Thornton was strongest. Her public speaking presence lacked passion and warmth.

I think Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Dr. Thornton would make an interesting pair to lead a school district, with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson as the Superintendent and Dr. Thornton as the Chief Academic Officer, but Seattle already has a Chief Academic Officer.

Dr. Thornton's lack of experience as a superintendent concerns me. I don't want Seattle to go from having a superintendent with strong financial management skills and no education background to a superintendent with strong educational leadership skills and minimal financial management background.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's lack of passion and public presence concerns me. Seattle needs a superintendent who can help inspire and bring together teachers, parents and community members all across the city.

I wish I could have met some of the other candidates the School Board interviewed last week. Despite how excited the School Board is about these two finalists, I didn't see or hear the same excitement from many of the community members who participated in the interviews the last two nights.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that either candidate would be a big improvement over the current superintendent. I'm just not sure that's good enough.


Anonymous said...

Well if we only have these two to choose from, I think Goodloe was by far the best. She may not have had the "passion and public presence" that folks seem to be looking for, but Ithink that's a style thing. Thornton had style (if you want to call it that) and Goodloe had more substance. I'm betting that Goodloe is much better about passion, etc. in smaller groups where she's not on display.

Her experience as a superintendent showed and she was able to answer policy, financial, and academic questions.

She will (and so will he for that matter) have a really hard time with the teacher's union the moment she starts pushing for evaluations and accountability.

She was honest, and didn't have to continually proclaim how good she is and at the same time try to act modest. That's the one thing that bugged me about Thornton. "I'm good, I'm not the best, but I'm one of the best". That says to me that he's working way too hard to convince us that he's qualified for the job.

So bottom line, I'd rather have a tactician who we can develop into a public speaker, than the other way around.

Anonymous said...

I agree. And, how nice would it be to have someone who started in Special Education be at the helm, given that that is the group who often seems to not even be invited to the table. For example, in all of the last years' talk about math, am I the only one who noticed that there was absolutely no mention of math for special education students?

Anonymous said...

This may be a bit off topic as it is not specific to Dr. Gooloe-Johnson, but rather to the tour that both canidates took. As I understand it, they went to all sout end schools, Sealth, Mercer, Van Asselt, and Wing Luke. Was that the right tour for giving these two canidates a picture of the district? I am in no means intending to disparage any of these schools, I think that it is safe to say that anyone who has paid any attention at all in the last few years has to be impressed with the gains at Van Asselt and Sealth, but was this a true picture of what SPS is?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Boy, Beth and I really are coming from different viewpoints on this candidate.

I thought Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was terrible. She is a pleasant, bright person who has little real warmth or believability. Her answers were rote and lacked substance. What real initiatives or new ideas did she put forth versus Dr. Thorton? I stopped taking notes midway thru because I was hearing nothing worth writing down.

I felt her testy on her answer about why she didn't get along with her last Board (and she seemed satisfied that the people she couldn't work with got voted out but that's not the way to solve problems).

I believe in AP but she used it as an answer to about 5 questions. AP and Honors are not the be all and end all to rigor and are not going to solve our high school problems. She did mention having alternatives for kids who don't go to college and having them be prepared to work as team, be literate and that they need to feel connected to their high school.

She answered questions so quickly (both literally - I thought I talked fast - and figuratively) that staff had a hard time giving her new ones. Unfortunately a couple of real clunkers got through which was annoying.

I did get in a question which related directly to the Board's list of qualities. It was:
How would you hold senior leadership/district staff accountable for promises made to parents and the public. She gave a quick, "I'm accountable so they will be." and asked if that was clear. I explained that there is unhappiness in the district over staff who do not follow Board policies and are not held accountable. She just didn't answer the question in any clear form.

What I can tell you from sitting there was that the energy and attention level was NOT the same as when Dr. Thorton spoke. I didn't feel it from her or the audience. Indeed, halfway through there was a lot of whispering among the audience members which did not happend with Dr. Thorton.

She did not answer financial questions so I don't know how you discern she's capable in that area.

Dr. Thorton has been a teacher, a principal, an academic officer and an assistant superintendent. He's qualified.

I agree about her Special Education background although, oddly, she barely mentioned it.

She talked about creating a plan for academic achievement that would take 6-8 months and 3-5 years to implement. She was asked about what kids do in the meantime. Hello? We have a plan, we have a vision, we just need leadership to figure out how to get there.

She had little to say about Seattle and I'm not sure she did any research on our district. If she did, it did not show.

Beth is right that you have to wonder about the other candidates. Last time they brought out 4 (and they brought out but did not identify the 6 they initially interview). I think at least 3 would have been better.

I see her as someone who will be a source of problems for us, not solutions. I do not believe she will inspire anyone. I do not support her as the choice for our superintendent and I will be sorely disappointed should she be selected.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Melissa, that's the problem with Seattle--we want people to make us feel good and we get upset when someone answers questions directly instead of adding a bunch of flowery words that connect with us. That's exactly why we still have major race and class problems here 'cause people don't talk to each other directly--we're too busy worried about the Seattle process and hurt feelings.

I'm from the East Coast, so Goodloe's style suits me just fine. I've been in Seattle over 20 years and the "Seattle Nice" still drives me crazy 'cause at the end of the day, very little gets done and you will more than likely get stabbed in the back. I'd be willing to bet that Thornton adjusted his style just for Seattle 'cause I can guarantee that kind of "passion and public presence" does not play out on the East Coast. I might have to find some footage of him speaking to the Philadelphia audience to prove the point.

Anyway, the net net is that we're going to get one of them and each of them appeals to a different type of person, so whoever it is, we're going to have to make the best of it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

This isn't about being "nice"; I clearly stated that he answered questions in specific and she did not. Watch the interviews on tv and then come back and explain what she said that was of any clear substance versus what he said.

I just a discussion at lunch with a friend about this skirting the issues of race and class. It needs to be out there, it needs mediation and understanding of where (mentally) other people are coming from.

Make the best of it. It's a sad day when that's what we settle for. But if that's what is to be then we get what we deserve.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I can definitely say that's one thing we can agree on "Make the best of it. It's a sad day when that's what we settle for. But if that's what is to be then we get what we deserve." I'd rather agree on something much more positive. I think this is one of the reasons folks wanted the new board to choose the candidates. Oh well...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else think it ironic that the two Superintendant finalists are African American? John Stanford was African American, Raj is Indian, Carla Santorno is African American, Caprice Hollins is African American.

Don't get me wrong, I am very pleased to see diversity. I only hope that the selection of two African American finalists is not the boards attempt to prove to their constituents that they are actively countering institutionalized racism etc. I hope that they looked at all candidates, black, white or otherwise and selected the best person for the job.

Frankie said...

I was actually wondering the exact same thing, but couldn't figure out a way to approach the subject in a sensitive way. I do wonder if the school board would shy away from a caucasian candidate/finalist for fear of retribution and racist accusations.

Anonymous said...

I would have been surprised if the candidates had not been black. Does anybody doubt that the overriding concern of the district today is academic underperformance of black students?

That said, I also think that even this lackluster school board realizes that they need to dig out from under the obsession with racial disparity if they are going to pull back any signficant portion of the potential student body that has bailed for private schools. I won't be surprised if the new super puts an acceptable face on reinvigorated efforts in this regard, and my money's on Thornton. I will also not be particularly surprised if it's the same-old same-old.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree with the overemphasize on race in this district over the last couple of years. I think the Board has been somewhat tentative based on fears of being labelled racist.

But, in fairness, superintendents here have been male and white. (I tried to find if there was a woman but I couldn't find it online. I'm seeing the district archvist - did you know we have one? we do - later this week on another matter and I'll ask her.) I think because the place in time we are in this district it might look like a bow to being p.c. but in reality, it's just the way it has played out.

still anonymous said...

I didn't get to see Dr Thornton (hope to today on TV) but after watching the Goodloe-Johnson session, I'm amazed that people came away with a favorable impression of her. My high hopes sank with every superficial, formulaic, incomplete, "next?" answer she gave to the questions, many of which were excellent - and generally far more intelligent than her answers.

Time and again questioners asked her for examples, and the only specific answer I heard her give was the middle-school re-whatever, which she cited in 2 or 3 questions.

What previous posters saw as "honesty" I saw as superficial and self-serving - so throw-away that in one case she almost couldn't repeat her answer to the 5 traits question - "Integrity, honesty,..." when asked to repeat it because she's reeled it off so quickly.

Nor did I see her at all as a tactitian from her answers - she ducked the one financial question about how much is spent on parent engagement in her district - couldn't even ball park it. I admit it would have been hard - because expenditures might be in pockets all over the budget - but her answer was unsatisfactory.

Her answers also seemed to be pastiches of education jargon - small learning communities, professional learning communities, asessment, etc - that just came off like static, and that she didn't seem to have done her homework on the WASL and other SEattle/Washington issues was pretty astonishing.

Re "tactitian vs public speaker", this is much more than simply public speaking, to me - the superintendent position is 80% politician, so charisma and character are critical, even if they're occasionally faked. It was really hard to see either of these qualities in Dr Goodloe Johnson - or even the ability to fake it - which some might see as a noble trait (she obviously did, as she said more than once "I'm honest - people may not like my answers - but I'm honest"), but I would say that's a little naive for a leader of a half-billion dollar, multi-thousand employee, very public organization.

Perhaps above all, I would want the candidate to work well with Carla Santorno - and I'll be watching Dr Thornton's interview with that in mind. I had a hard time imagining Dr Goodloe Johnson being the right fit - and I hope Carla has a strong say in the outcome.

still anonymous said...

PS - what would have completely tipped the balance for me in Dr Goodloe-Johnson's session is if, at the usual Don Alexander shout-out juncture, she'd politely asked Chery Chow "Can I take this one?" and showed some ability to step up to one of the most thorny issues in our district. That would have been leadership, to me - true, a very tall order, but we need that and then some to lead SPS.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps above all, I would want the candidate to work well with Carla Santorno - and I'll be watching Dr Thornton's interview with that in mind. I had a hard time imagining Dr Goodloe Johnson being the right fit - and I hope Carla has a strong say in the outcome."

Carla used to be Maria Goodloe-Johnson's boss.

As for say in the outcome, I think that the Board is driving this train.

still anonymous said...

You're right - the board is making the hiring decision - but if they're not consulting Raj and Carla and tapping their considerable knowledge and insight to decide which of these candidates would be the better fit in Seattle, they're naive.

Can it be true that the board would bring in the CAO's former direct report as a supervisor candidate? I hope there is more to that story - and that it was with Carla's knowledge, if not blessing. Otherwise, it was worse than naive.

Beth Bakeman said...

What I have heard (although not from someone who is in a position to know), is that Carla and Maria are good friends. I also heard that it was Carla's suggestion to look at Maria as a candidate for the superintendent job.

Anonymous said...

On poster complained about Goodloe's "I'm honest - people may not like my answers - but I'm honest" comment as naive. But this is exactly what we need. We have had decades of leaders pandering to people because they're not willing to make the tough decisions and they're more than happy to try to get a full popular vote (causing lots more havoc) before making a decision. The Seattle Process is killing us! We need someone who knows the right people to talk to, get the facts, then be bold enough to make the decision. That's leadership.

still anonymous said...

Apologies - I must correct you: I didn't say her "People may not like what I have to say, but..." statement was naive - I said I thought it was superficial and self-serving.

I said that it's the people who think that kind of statement are noble who are naive.

In my life, I've found the people who feel they have to say those kinds of things are generally the ones you have to watch, and that it tends to be some kind of bravado/ego thing.

The people who really are honest, tell the truth, make the tough choices, etc - don't have to tell you that.

Anonymous said...

Melissa Westbrook said...

"But, in fairness, superintendents here have been male and white. (I tried to find if there was a woman but I couldn't find it online. I'm seeing the district archvist - did you know we have one? we do - later this week on another matter and I'll ask her.)"

If you look at the photos in the lobby by the north entry, you will see that SPS has had one female Sup, back in 1887.

Anonymous said...

Inside scoop on Charleston schools AH: Superintendent Goodloe- Johnson shares thoughts, expectations
By Diette Courrégé

Sunday,August 20, 2006
Edition: FINAL, Section: NATION, Page A1
Linked Objects:
Linked text: On a personal note

The stakes are as high as they've ever been for Charleston County School Superintendent Maria Goodloe- Johnson.
Her job security depends on who wins five seats in November's county school board election, and she has to face the state Board of Education again in December to show improvements she's promised for Burke High School.

That's on top of her primary responsibility as chief executive for 80 schools and the 43,000 students who attend them. Still, Goodloe- Johnson, the district's first woman and first black superintendent who will celebrate her third anniversary with the district in October, has high hopes for the school year starting Wednesday.

Goodloe- Johnson spent 1 1/2 hours with The Post and Courier last week talking about the upcoming school year.

Q What do you see different about this upcoming school year? Do you have any other major changes planned?

A Well, I think every year is different, and the beginning of every year is very different. ... And what's different this year is that everything's in place, everything is calm, buildings are ready. Last year, everything started fine, but it was a lot of frantic, last-minute getting things done for a lot of very different, legitimate reasons.

But this year people are excited, there's lots of positive energy, and I think they're ready for the year. And I think that just comes with the change in the culture and getting the foundation in place and people knowing what the expectations are. ... One thing that's real important is that we stick to the strategic plan, which is the Charleston Plan for Excellence.

Now, there are issues that could be major that we need to pay attention to as it relates to District 20. Burke, of course, is on the forefront, the A-plus programs have to be successful this year, so those are things that are highlighted and we have high focus and high support because it's critical that they're successful this year.

The exciting focus is about the new Sanders-Clyde and the work that will be done there and the development. The most exciting thing about that is having the time to do the planning and to make it happen well.

Q What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the district right now?

A Actually, I think the biggest challenge that's not just facing our district but facing all districts in South Carolina is the funding, is the change in the financial funding and not knowing what's going to happen and the unintended outcomes of the funding at the state level which is being worked on and talked about now. ... Charleston County is what it is. Our data is what it is. Student performance is what it is, but what we're doing is improving that.

But when you haven't paid attention to it for long enough, then it's going to take more time and more energy and more money. And people always say it shouldn't take more money. Well, it depends on what you're trying to fix.

If you have students coming to you who've had three bad teachers in a row, who come to school in kindergarten not knowing what a book looks like, not knowing what their letters are, those are all deficits. So it takes more resources and more intervention to fix those deficits. And right now in Charleston County that deficit exists, at some elementary stages, at some middle school stages and at some high school stages.

Now, the good news about that is when we look at our early childhood development data, it looks fabulous.

The key is going to be tracking that data ... to make sure it's sustained, so when you permanently fix the instructional gap at the elementary schools, then we have to make sure that we maintain that rigor and that support all the way through the system, and then in 10 years, we shouldn't have the kind of issues in closing the gap that we have currently.

But right now it's a struggle because the issues are huge. But the good news is, I believe, that we're making incredible progress. And it's not my perception, it's based on the data and the facts.

Q If you could wave a magic wand, what would be different for Charleston County schools?

A You know what, I think if I could wave a magic wand and if I only had one choice, it would be that every parent that had a child in school would be involved and supportive of their children. Because parent involvement makes an incredible difference for kids, and for teachers and communities and schools. I mean, you can see it.

We have concrete examples of parents that are involved, they raise money, they support the teachers, they support the kids, they volunteer, they do tons of stuff that schools can't afford to do or that teachers don't have the time to do. It makes a significant difference. There's even research that shows that ... parental involvement can make a significant increase in student achievement. That's not the only thing, but that's the one that I would chose today.

Q What do you need that you don't have right now to do a better job than you're doing?

A There was a great article ... about the success of Tom Payzant, who was a 10-year, very successful superintendent in Boston who just retired. And the reason why he was successful was because he had a coherent board that worked with the superintendent as a collective team for the good of the children.

The same thing happened in Texas. The research just clearly shows that we've got to be about improving instruction for kids. Period. Not all of the other peripheral kinds of things.

Q Do you think constituent boards are necessary?

A That's a loaded question. I think they probably served a purpose when they were established. But I believe that if something was established in 1964 and it's 2006, then I think we really need to look at value-added, and is it something that is going to contribute to improving the well-being of the county? There's probably not anybody who can think of one thing they were doing in 1964 that they're still doing today. I mean, that's kind of how I look at it.

It's like when you talk about change, and it's difficult for people to change, except when it comes to technology. I can remember eight-tracks, and then ... cassettes, DVDs and now iPods. Well that's been in a short span of time, and people change just like this. (snaps her fingers). ... With technology, people change, just like this (snaps fingers again), but when you talk about change in real work and in real life and in education, it's like you asked somebody to jump off the roof. It's just interesting.

Q Do you think the district could function without them?

A Absolutely. This is the only district in the nation that has constituent boards. ...

Q I've never seen you as vulnerable and emotional publicly as you were after and during that hearing in Columbia about whether the state would take over Burke. Can you explain a little bit about why it was such an emotional time for you?

A First of all, that situation should have never occurred. We should have never been at the state department to defend why something didn't get done. Because when you look at what needed to happen, it wasn't rocket science. I was a high school principal. It should've been done. So the vulnerability was a combination of anger, but it was a combination of hearing people say things publicly that's just absolutely not true.

And it was a combination of, this is about the kids, and people politicize and use their own agendas, and it's about the kids. And we have to work for the kids. And I knew if the state wanted to take away Burke it would be devastating. The community has enough issues, they have enough concerns. There is a long history, a lot of which I don't even know about, but I seem to learn more every year, about the history, about the pride. And I didn't want that taken away.

But what I really wanted people to understand was we've got to work together. ... So it was a combination of a lot of emotions, but the biggest thing was we can't lose that school, we can't lose any of our schools because it's our responsibility. And when it doesn't happen, it's like I said, it's our failure, it's my failure, it's the district's failure. And I don't mind owning it because if something fails, then own it but then fix it.

I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm not going to keep talking about it. We're going to move forward and fix it. So I feel like that's exactly what we're doing. I stopped at Burke today before I came here, and it was great. ... You can feel the positive energy. ...

Q How has that experience with Burke affected you? And will it affect the way you look at any situation in the future?

A The one thing it really made me think about in the reflection is that we have to be really clear about accountability. And when we reflected on the mistakes that were made, the accountability wasn't tight enough, and that's important.

Accountability in education ... seems to sometimes have a negative connotation, and it's really not negative. In any successful business there is strict accountability, and you have to answer to whoever your supervisor is with the data about what's going on. We just did not have tight enough accountability. So to me, that's a big lesson about being more tight on specific schools that still have work to do.

But I also believe you can be loose with schools that are doing well. One of the things that I said when I came here was that I'm not going to fix anything that's not broken. And I'm not. ... I think the biggest thing I learned is the accountability for me all the way down the system was not tight enough to ensure that things were being done.

Q Many see this election coming down to whether you're going to keep your job, and some have said that they're ready for you to be replaced. How do you think this election is going to affect your ability to do your job, and do you think it's going to be a distraction?

A I'm not going to allow it to be a distraction. We have way too much work to do, and we're starting a new school year. We're very focused. We know what our focus areas are and we know what work needs to be done. I can't afford to allow it to be a distraction because that's not my work. That's a broader community political issue with board members, and my job as the CEO and the superintendent is to stay focused, and we have to continue to do that.

Q If you are replaced after the election, how do you think it would affect the district?

A Well, it's hard for me to say. I would say from the feedback and all the information I get all the time from lots of people, I think it would be devastating to the system. Anytime you bring in a new leader, you start over.

You go back to square one. And it's because when somebody comes in, they have to understand what's gone on, get the feel of the system. They have to learn the people, they have to learn the system, they have to learn the board.

They have to do all the things that I did in my first 90 days, and that's a setback. It's hard for me to say how it would impact the system. It would be interesting to me to know what other people think, but just from my perspective of what people tell me all the time and what I see and hear when I'm involved in, I just think it would be a step backwards.

Q How do you think you've grown these past few years?

A For me it's been amazing growth. Because anytime you come into a new job, you have your expectations and your perceptions and you know what needs to be done, but then the reality of the culture of the community and all the different pockets and all the different people you work with, either you modify it and adjust what you thought you needed to do so that you're inclusive and you incorporate all those different entities, or you probably fail.

So the biggest growth, I think for any superintendent, especially for me, has been the political arena. And it's funny because I hear myself saying to people, "This isn't about logic, this isn't about what makes sense, it's about politics." And that's sad to me because that's not what the job's about.

I don't think anybody came into education, including superintendents, maybe there are some but I haven't met them, that go into the superintendency because they love politics. ... It's the world we live in, but it shouldn't be how we make decisions for kids. So the biggest growth, really, is the politics of Charleston. Who's who, how they support what, and all those kinds of things.

Q Favorite part of your job?

A Visiting the schools, talking to the kids, talking to teachers.

Q Least favorite part of your job?

A The politics.

Q Are you used to the spotlight yet? How has the attention affected you, and do you think that all the attention and scrutiny you get is rightly deserved?

A I'm used to the spotlight because that actually happened in my prior job. Not to the extent that it happens here. But as assistant superintendent in Corpus Christi I had the same kind of spotlight. I was on TV on the first day on the job. ... Once I realized the scrutiny and everybody pays attention to everything, you just make the adjustment. You just know that it's a part of what's going to happen. So I can't really say that it's affected me. I just think it became clear that this is an everyday

occurrence so just get used to it.

Q Is it rightly deserved?

A Some of the scrutiny, I don't think, is rightly deserved. I think it crosses the line and is interesting. But I think it's a Southern thing. ... I think the attention on the school system and the work is rightly deserved because education is the most important thing we do for our kids. So I don't have a problem with that. I mean I think that's rightly deserved. ...

Q But you in particular?

A No, I don't think I should.

QMaya, your daughter, is not quite kindergarten age yet . . .

A She'll be two in December . . .

Q Do you think that having her now has in any way affected the way you approach this job?

A I don't know. I don't think it's affected the way I approach this job because I always believe that I had to make decisions for kids like they were mine. But now it's real. It's different when you hypothetically say something and then it becomes real, because it becomes that much more emotional.

That's why I guess I get so angry when people make accusations, well, I guess not angry, but very disappointed, that we would put kids in buildings that were not safe. I would no more put my child or anybody else's child in a building that's not safe. And to even imply that we're so callous that we would do that, I just don't understand that kind of thinking.

Q So do you insert her in situations?

A If I say, Maya wouldn't go to school here, then it's not good enough for anybody's kid. I mean, when I walked into the Archer building, I said this is cool. It's cute, the kids will like it, the colors, (the principal) has done a great job. Maya could go to school here. That's how I think. If I don't think it's good enough for Maya, then we need to fix it because ... everybody's child is important.

So I just think having a child makes it that much more real. Because I know parents used to say to me when I was a high school principal, "Do you have kids?" I would say, "Yeah, I have 1,500 of them." "No, that's not what I mean." I understand what they're saying now, but it really hasn't changed my perspective about how I approach the job because I always felt like everybody's child was important.

It doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter how much money you have, what language you speak, what color you are — kids, children, they're important and we have to take care of all of them.

Reach Diette Courrégé at or 937-5546.

2 years and counting for Goodloe- Johnson
By Seanna Adcox

Sunday,August 21, 2005
Edition: FINAL, Section: SECTION A, Page A1


The Charleston County School District is entering its third school year with Maria Goodloe- Johnson at the helm.

The district's first woman and first black superintendent was hired in 2003 to boost student performance countywide. She talked to The Post and Courier last week about her experience.

Her initiatives include standardizing curricula districtwide to ensure, for example, that first-graders at Minnie Hughes Elementary School in rural Hollywood are learning the same thing at roughly the same time as first-graders at Charles Pinckney Elementary School in Mount Pleasant. She refers to that as a "coherent curriculum."

Q: Who would you describe as the most influential person in your life and why?

A: My mom, because she was a single parent when we were young and was a teacher, provided us every opportunity, every experience that you could ever imagine. ... I learned a tremendous amount from my mother around perseverance, around making decisions, about speaking up for yourself, about how important education is.

Q: Your second anniversary is approaching (on Oct. 1). What do you feel you've accomplished?

A: I think we've accomplished a lot. ... The biggest thing is the implementation of year one for the Charleston Plan for Excellence, putting a coherent curriculum in place, training teachers, adding literacy coaches to buildings. ...

Reconstituting two of our failing schools (Rivers and Brentwood middle schools) that had failed for decades. ... Those are very hard things to do because people don't like change regardless of (whether) it's positive or not. ...

There's a whole list of things we've done relative to processes and accountability that's going to make a big difference. Are we where we need to be? No. But we've made a lot of progress, and we have a long way to go.

Q: The coherent curriculum, a lot of people say they understand it. It sounds like a great idea. But in practical purposes, I've heard teachers complain that our eighth-graders, for example, are not on an eighth-grade level, so how can we teach them on an eighth-grade level right now?

A: That's their job to get them there. ... That's why we have the curriculum, because you can see year by year what it is students are supposed to know and be able to do. You have to take kids where they are and move them forward.

Having a coherent curriculum provides a real clear target about where they're supposed to be, so it's not watered down and you don't have to guess. We have lots of students that come to us that aren't on grade level. That's just the reality we deal with. The job still remains the same.

Q: What decision are you most proud of over the past two years?

A: Coming to Charleston County to be the superintendent.

Q: What do you regret?

A: I don't have any regrets.

Q: What most surprised you about this district after you got here and started digging?

A: The lack of processes and accountability for a business this size. There are processes and accountability systems that operated in silos, individual, as if nothing was connected.

Q: Two years later, is student achievement where you expected?

A: After I analyze the data and look at it, I can answer that better. I believe every year we'll see progress. The research clearly shows it takes three to five years. ... That's a hard question to answer without looking at the data.

Q: People have criticized the progress as too slow. What do you tell them?

A: I tell them it's about 10 years too late. ... When you have 10 years of digging a hole because nothing's been done, or correct things haven't been done, it's not going to change overnight. ...

You have to put the processes in place, put the structure in place. You have to support teachers and put the training in place, and then you work from there. ...

I told the school board when I came, I said, "Unless you're committed to four years of the same superintendent and another four years, you're not going to see the progress, and you're not going to make progress." The research is very clear. Unless you sustain change and support it and hold people accountable, nothing's going to happen.

Q: The Charleston Plan for Excellence initially said there would be no unsatisfactory schools by the end of the 2003-04 school year. I would imagine there are going to be some unsatisfactory schools. What does that say about the plan and the district's progress?

A: I think what is says is that, as superintendent, my expectations are very high. There's no way I would say it's OK to have unsatisfactory schools. That goal would always be there. ... If you just want to say, "She had that goal, and they didn't make it" — anybody can say that. The bottom line is, are we making progress?

Q: You are the highest paid superintendent in the state (with a $181,825 salary and $800 monthly car allowance). To mimic L'Oreal, why are you worth it?

A: Because I have the expertise, and I have the commitment, and I have obviously what the board was looking for when they brought me here. To run a district this size that is as broken as it is and has as many challenges deserves a salary, and it deserves a pro-fessional salary.

I was very honest about that before I came. You can look at any — at most — districts around the nation, and the salary I make is very comparable. ... You get what you pay for, and I just think that's how it works. I don't think you can ask people to do jobs and not pay them.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: I would say collaborative but directive. I'm real clear about what needs to happen, and I can clearly say what my expectations are, and then I give people the flexibility to perform. And if it doesn't happen, I can be much more directive. I believe any system works much better if you listen to and help to support and direct the people you actually work with.

Q: Some of your critics have said you don't listen to the public before making decisions. That you're either "on the bus" or not, to use your slogan. What's your response?

A: I'm not sure what the criticism is. ... The "on the bus" slogan is, our data is clear. Our direction is clear. What we need to do is clear. The research supports that. We're not going to talk about if we're going to do that. We can talk about how we get there. That's on the bus.

We're not going to talk about, "Are we going to have a coherent curriculum?" We are. ...

We have to train our teachers, and the curriculum has to be consistent. You can't have a different curriculum in different parts of the county, then wonder why kids aren't achieving.

I don't listen? If people said I didn't listen when I reconstituted (Rivers and Brentwood middle schools), that was probably true. Why? Because we had 10 years of failure. The data was very clear. So how long do we lose generations of children because we're listening to somebody say we don't want that? At some point, the professional has to make the decision about what direction we go.

Q: Marvin Stewart (chairman of the constituent board for downtown Charleston schools) and others have made the criticism that this district remains largely separate but unequal. The fact is, we do have mostly minority schools and largely white schools. Do you agree, and why is Charleston like that?

A: Charleston's like that because of history. If you look at historical decisions that have been made, they have not been made so that all students are successful. ...

All children have not been looked out for. That's the bottom line. Now, the way that has fallen out, when you look at the data, it has fallen out relative to race and class. So I think Marvin has a legitimate argument. ...

What I'm doing with the Charleston Plan for Excellence is being strategic about the work we have to do and be very clear that all students need to improve, including our low-performing schools. We have to have equity in how we support our schools, and we just don't have that right now.

Q: Where do you see us in another two years? In four years?

A: In another two years, I think we'll see significant improvement. In another four years, as long as we sustain the direction and support teachers in the classroom and continue making changes that we need to do to support kids, we'll continue to make significant progress. ... Eight to 10 years is when you see sustainable progress as long as you continue to do the work. If you keep changing, keep changing directions, you don't hold people accountable, you don't give them the support, you're not going to make progress.

Q: How long do you plan to stay?

A: As long as it takes to turn around the district. It's going to take at least 10 years.

Q: How do you get parents more involved?

A: It depends on the community. You just have to brainstorm how to get parents connected. If it's going to churches, if it's having activities on the weekends, if it's going door to door. ... You have to do things other than asking parents to come to school because school is not always a positive place or a positive experience for parents.

Diette Courrege
The Post and Courier
134 Columbus St.
Charleston, S.C. 29403
843.937.5579 fax

Anonymous said...

Read the two interviews at the beginning of her 2nd and 3rd years in Charleston, then review the televised public Q&A held in Seattle last Friday. It's all canned. If Seattle offers her the position as super then get used to a type of public engagement that usually starts with the phrase "We've already decided that, so let's move on." If Seattle doesn't extend an offer and its decision not to is associated with her inability to effectively interact with the public, then she'll be seen by many as seriously damaged goods. The current school board in Charleston is going to have to confront short falls and possibly eroding public support when the school reports at the beginning of her 4th year show results of her Plan for Excellence are far less than what was promised. Indications now are that significant progress will not be seen by the Fall of 2007. We're still trying to understand how the explanations for why an increasing number of low performing schools in Charleston County is actually an indication of progress. This argument defies logic.

Anonymous said...

I have no confidence in Goodloe-Johnson based on her record in Charleston. The fact that she already knows someone within SPS worries me. I also find it troubling that only two finalists were presented. Does this indicate that she's already a shoe in?

Being a superintendent doesn't necessarily mean you're right for the job. I'm more impressed with Greg Thornton.


Anonymous said...

A couple of Charleston school board members(one defeated and one re-elected in the election last November), who both gave Goodloe-Johnson a poor rating at the start of her 3rd year last October, indicated that her out-of-wedlock pregnancy was an issue. In a world of poor school performance, racial inequities, and ever increasing school budget difficulties, this may seem to be a trivial issue that is better left as a private matter concerning only the individuals involved. Tell that to the parents and adult role models of more than 23,000 African-American students in Charleston County, a majority of whom are assigned to failing public schools where teenage pregnacy and dropout rates are among the highest in the country. Not similarly described and with more pressing issues in mind, it's easy for some of us to ignore that one. Perhaps a major issue might be the super's insensitivity to community needs and concerns involving responsible choices among young students in high risk schools.

retired Dist.20 teacher & parent said...

These are two opposing entries which appeared late Monday night, April 9, 2007, and were lifted from the Charleston school district discussions found on the

Anonymous said...
Seattle, please be reminded: People posting on this site are a bunch of angry White women who can not get their children into Buist Academy. Now, they are angry at the entire world to include Dr. Goodloe.

Dr. Goodloe is an excellent individual and will lead Seattle school district to many victories as she has done in CCSD. Good Luck, Dr. Goodloe!

11:05 PM
Anonymous said...
Angry? White? Women? Those descriptions don't fit everyone I know posting here. Is it Jerry Adams [CCSD's communications director] killing the messenger again?

I actually do struggle with anger at Dr. Goodloe Johnson's perpetuation of our apartheid education system. You're right about ME when it comes to anger. It's so hard not to get angry at the injustice Charleston County Schools dishes out to the most vulnerable children in our community.

I don't want any child I care about to attend Buist Academy. I in fact discourage people from sending their children into that toxic environment.

Seattle, Buist Academy is a Magnet school placed in downtown Charleston 21 years ago to cover up the fact that we have a segregated school system. It is rare for a black child that lives downtown to get into Buist unless her mother is on the school board. This can be verified easily.

There are 7 or 8 schools in downtown Charleston. There are about 3 white children going to all of these schools combined. No one on the Charleston County School board has lifted a finger to desegregate these schools for at least 21 years. These schools are grossly under funded because of our "points system." This means that none of the schools have enough students to qualify for many things that you may take for granted.

Buist Academy is made up of only a handful of white downtown children. It has many things that no other downtown school has such as full time PE, art, music and four foreign language teachers. It has a full time guidance counselor and an assistant principal. The school is located only yards away from Dr. Goodloe Johnson's office.

We have an archaic system that includes Constituent School boards. Downtown the Constituent board is made up of all downtown African Americans except for one blonde lady JA would no doubt label as "angry." The Constituent School board has a long history of intense clashes with the county school board. The good thing is the Constituent Board lives downtown and has the pulse of the community (yes, even the white lady JA). The system is flawed but thank God for those downtown officials! They are the only elected officials looking out for the children of downtown Charleston. Dr. Johnson sees them as crazy and dangerous. The perception the county board tries to paint is that only loud and off kilter downtown people get elected to that board. How has this happened for so many years and why are they always so mad about Buist? They do always end up furious because they know what is going on with the schools downtown and the corruption at Buist Academy.

It is commonly known that any school board member, important school system employee, elected official, attorney or professional fundraiser is guaranteed a spot at Buist. It exists for two reasons: to pass out favors to political friends and for the children of VIP's at Charleston County Schools.

The corruption at Buist has been exposed this past year on local news and even national TV news reports but it continues to operate as usual. I don't know who runs this blog but I don't think she has children she wants to get in Buist. In fact the only people I respect that would take a spot at Buist are people that live downtown and feel they are stuck in terribly under funded schools.

Good luck to Dr. Johnson in whatever she chooses to do. I hope that in the future she stops lumping everyone that disagrees with her into the enemy camp. Some of those people that she thought of as angry white females could have been great allies. Ironically the people she trusts least from downtown are people that live in racially integrated neighborhoods! They want the children of their community to go to school together in a well funded school.

It's also pure sexism to use this terminology. Mr. Adams, are you a bit of a misogynist? When you and Dr. Johnson were in the meeting with the District 20 Families Group last summer I understand there were actually more fathers in that crowd of roughly 25 people. Is it just easier to label the "enemy" as hysterical and female?

12:17 AM

Anonymous said...

Leslie here -

Have not had a chance to review the interviews. What, if anything, has been said about alternative education and/or any history with either candidate on alternative ed?

Anyone from the new alternative ed committee have some feedback for us?

Thanks in advance - Les

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest, I would like Maria leave Charleston.Dr. Goodloe has done nothing for District 20. She is rude and she does not value parental input. Maria is not big on explaining her actions or her outcomes. Be careful in your selection.

Melissa Westbrook said...

What I recall from both interviews was that both candidates kind of brushed over the question. Frankly, I'm not sure if they had alternative schools (our models) confused with charters/privately funded schools.

Beth Bakeman said...

Dr. Thornton, when asked about alternative education talked about how Philadelphia was the "most innovative school district in America." He said that alternative education is necessary as "an option for some youngsters" and gives them "a place to learn and grow."

I don't have any direct quotes from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson on the issue, but my memory is the same as Mel's. They both gave vague responses that didn't necessarily demonstrate an awareness or understanding of alternative schools as they exist in Seattle.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy Dr Goodloe Johnson .......we are glad to see her go ... thanks for taking her off our hands ..... By the way will she be making more a year than your governor like she is here? I have met her and she is a very snooty woman ..... not very personable ..... like I said enjoy her ....... LOL

Anonymous said...

I'll second that thought. The local news just broke in with the special story that Maria is leaving us. I promise you there are thousands of parents in the Charleston, SC area delighted to see her go.

I find previous comments shocking which describe her as "honest". Honest is one thing I assure you, she is not. Our school system has BIG problems and she did little to help us. Accountability is non-existent here (in Charleston). The notion that she has a background in special education is a joke. The solution for special education behavior problems in Charleston County is arrest. There's a disgusting separate schools program that the district uses to clear out kids with severe emotional and behavioral problems. The district has been fined again and again for disregarding special education law. We're taking about millions of dollars in fines. I hope that Seattle has a better mechanism for monitoring and protecting the rights of all it's students.

Dr. G-Johnson made a concerted effort to make it look like improvements abound here. Look at our scores to see what she'll do with yours. I can't help, but wonder how she will manage a school district that's (I assume) larger with greater, more urban issues to address if she can't manage in little 'ol South Carolina?! Best of luck to the kids of Seattle's public school system. I fear they are going to need it. Seattle has made a bad decision, but the citizens of Charleston are glad that you did. Good Riddance!

classof75 said...

[i]Does anybody doubt that the overriding concern of the district today is academic underperformance of black students[/i]

Of course not- but is it a concern to the point that we measure what is and isnt't working within the schools and the district?

How many years has it been an overiding concern?
How many families are frustrated with the lack of focus and move out of the city, or choose alternatives to SPS?
When will these kids ever be a concern to the district?

frankie said...

This is the exact reason that the election of this incoming board is so very important. When we select the new board we have to make sure that they are cohesive, and that the performance of ALL students is paramount. ALL students!!!!

While closing the achievement gap is very important, and we should make every effort to eliminate it, so should we make every effort to challenge every other student in the district. We can not let under achievers set the bar, the ceiling. We have to celebrate all students at all levels, including the advanced/gifted. We have to challenge each and every student, whatever their level of achievement, of color. We need a cohesive board that has the best interest of ALL children at heart. Vote wisely, Seattle.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I am glad that she is leaving Charleston. Irregardless of what you may all think unless you are rich she will want nothing for your children. Our poor schools are worse off than they were before she got here. Thank you for taking her. We need to grow not fall behind even more.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is thank you for taking that mean spirited woman off of our hands. Perhaps you should get the teacher comments this year to see how much they disliked her. My experienced with sitting in executive session with her is that she is a spoiled little child who when she doesn't get her way pouts and threatens. She is great at talking on her feet, but, when it is time to deliver the goods, she can't do it. Sure she will put a nice spin on it but nothing happens but talk. All My conservative friends are singing "Thank God and Greyhound she is gone. One very powerful community member said their favorite four letter word is "GONE".

caroline said...

Um, excuse me, Buist is just a school for academically advanced children. Plenty of the children at Buist are not rich, and a couple are black. I'll admit, not enough, but... And the PE consists of playing in the garden across Calhoun! I know there were times of doubt, but just 'cuz some rich people with connections COULDNT get in, and made a big deal, that doesnt mean corruption.

Leslie Lim said...

Thank you for posting some kind of information. It was really helpful since I am doing some research now.

Shea Kang said...

To succeed we must BELIEVE that we CAN.
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