Sandra Husk was our last finalist interview. She speaks in a crisp, polished manner and with confidence. There were three people in our interview; Lynne Varner and Brian Rosenthal of the Times and me.
Why are you the right person to lead SPS?
When you look to fill a superintendent position, you need a good match between needs and talents. You look for a track record of closing the achievement gap, a good communicator and someone who can build a team.
You had some sort of professional business certification for your district in Tennessee. Do you believe a district should be run like a business?
She said she had this certification in her district in Oregon as well and that it is a quality assurance one. The idea is to make sure your district and central office are providing services to schools. She said we benchmark student progress and teacher progress but it's rare for the whole central office to have that kind of accountability. She said it empowers employees to be involved in problem-solving and efficiencies.
About today's school scandal, she said she had read the paper. She said that any indication of things not working should be address in how checks and balances work. She also said that it was important to get accurate and timely info out to the public and be respectful of the need to know while having a balance.
The follow-up question was whether it would be announced to the press if she knew there was this kind of issue in a school?
She said to keep trust the public needs to know there is an issue and that there is an investigation going on.
(I followed up on this question at the press conference on the Van Asselt investigation and asked Sherry Carr about reporting this issue earlier. I told her what Husk had said about telling the public earlier and Carr said that isn't how the district does it. Carr stated that the district doesn't discuss on-going investigations. Interesting difference of opinion.)
She was asked about the last time she fired someone and seemed uncomfortable with the question.
She stated that she had had to let someone "go" or have a difficult conversation around employee performance.
She was asked about governance with the Board and that she had indicated in documents obtained that she had wanted to have more governance over decisions in her current district without the Board approval.
She said the policy governance she followed was from John Carver and that the most important question to sort out is how the Board will measure success. She said who is accountable, you or me? If it is her, then she said she wanted the "executive progative" to do what needs to get done. She said also said it was important to revisit these issues annually.
She was asked if she had looked at the governance in SPS and said she had not studied it enough to know.
What are the first things you will do on the job?
She said she would design an entry plan before she came in and how to know the community quickly. She said she had looked at the strategic plan and thought it had the "right activities" but could be made simpler to understand.
She was asked about another offer. She said yes but couldn't say more. Lynne Varner extracted that it was likely in the NW based on Superintendent's Husk comment that "we" are committed to stay in the NW.
I asked her about Advanced Learning.
She said they had a TAG program (talented and gifted) in her district. She said these students had different needs with an emotional component. She said there were times they needed to be together and times they needed to be "part of a whole community." She said her district had no official pull-out program but did a little of one and differentiated teaching and she liked both.
She was asked about teacher evaluation systems.
She said that in her district it was a "class project" with federal funds and Chalkboard funds (no, I don't know what Chalkboard is). She said it was similar to what we are doing in SPS and that evaluation is a tool.
She was asked about how she measures success.
She said there was, of course, the academic outcomes and achievements but also a happy workforce and a respectful organization.
What about your communication style with the public?
You need to find a style that fits your community. She said in Tennessee she was asked to church by some African-American groups and did go when invited. She said she attends music events in her current district.
She said that "evidently not" was the answer from Seattle on the issue of charters. She has no experience with TFA.
This felt like the least comfortable of the interviews. I say that not to mean I was uncomfortable but it felt less like she was trying to win us over with her answers than the other two candidates. I felt that her answers were fairly generic even if the question was specific.
Frankly, the answer on governance surprised me because clearly it has been an issue in her own district and she has been working on it for years and yet she hadn't read any of the governance issue information about SPS? It seemed odd.
I was also surprised she didn't have more to say about parent engagement and outreach because Mr. Banda and Mr. Enoch had enthusiastic things to say about that issue.