Monday, April 23, 2012

The Superintendent Selection Process

In the end, the Board chooses the superintendent. This is pretty much the Board's most important duty and they are responsible for it. They have to make the choice. Not only that, but they have to determine their process for making the choice. When it comes to everyone else working in the District, the readers and writers on this blog generally support autonomy and oppose micromanagement. We want teachers to be free to do their jobs as they see fit. We oppose their micromanagement by principals and certainly by central office bureaucrats. Similarly, we oppose the micromanagement of the superintendent by the Board. The Board sets policies, priorities and goals, but then it is up to the superintendent to determine how to achieve those goals within the context of the policies. If we support autonomy for workers, to determine for themselves how to accomplish their duties, then we should support that autonomy for the Board as well.

The Board has the duty of selecting the superintendent. No one else has that responsibility. They should decide what information they need to make that choice and how to get that information. They have. They set a process that works for them. Yes, they were guided by their hired consultants, but they did not slavishly follow the consultants' recommendations. They decided that they wanted to see the final candidates in four exercises while they are here in Seattle: school visits, a series of brief press conferences, an interview with a selected 25-person focus group, and a meeting with the Board. That's what the Board decided they needed and so that's what they are doing. They decided that they did not see the candidates field questions from the general public, so that's not going to happen.

Some folks are disappointed that about the absence of a public meeting. The Seattle Times certainly is. I'm a bit disappointed myself, I suppose. Public meetings like that can be really entertaining. But I respect the Board's choice and, even more, the Board's right and authority to make that choice.

Here's the thing. If we are going to be consistent and we are going to allow people some measure of autonomy to determine for themselves what they need to do their jobs and to determine for themselves how they will do their jobs, then we have extend that value for autonomy to the Board. This is their duty, not ours. This is their decision, not ours. Let's trust them to go about it as they see fit.

28 comments:

David said...

Good post, Charlie.

I noticed Director Kay Smith-Blum recently sent out a letter to those in her district. A copy of it is published here. I really liked the list of questions she will consider when deciding between the candidates:

Do they have a successful history of longevity in past positions, especially the classroom, and providing continuity in new ones?

Have they been involved in long range planning, both in instruction and capitol projects?

Do they have a visible and active style that promotes accessibility and availability?

Is there evidence that they themselves are a lifelong learner?

Is there evidence that they are a good listener?

Is there clear evidence they have worked successfully with diverse populations, closed gaps and raised graduation rates?

Do they have a reputation as an innovator and a doer, one that brings the community along with them?


Makes me hopeful that our Board will make a good pick.

John said...

One concern I have, but I have no idea how to address it, is the relationship between the next superintendent and the teaching staff. I'm not saying the teachers should get to vote in the next supe, but I'm hoping they get some real input. One of the worst things about MGJ was her toxic and dismissive relationship with teachers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Yes, they were guided by their hired consultants, but they did not slavishly follow the consultants' recommendations."

How do you know this Charlie? Because I find it odd that a superintendent who works for them, in the same year and the same state, gets put on their short list.

I can only urge readers, after they read the information from the media interviews, write to the Board with their thoughts (and strongly word any concerns you have).

The Focus group committee can't say a single thing to the public. Nothing. They are our eyes and ears but have no mouth.

The regular media will cover it straight-up so that leaves me, The Stranger and maybe Crosscut to put in some personal observations. I would listen to those and consider them carefully.

One person on the Board could make the difference between getting someone we can ALL live with and getting someone pre-picked by others who may not be someone we can all live with (but have to).

I am the first one to say to any new superintendent "Welcome to Seattle, how can I help?" Indeed, I have done that at every first Board meeting for new superintendents. But it is hard to be enthused when you are suspicious of the process.

And that is what the Board has engendered in how they are choosing to do this.

Bruce Taylor said...

I can't be the only person enjoying a sense of schadenfreude over the Times' hand-wringing editorial, "Public needs to be part of of vetting process for school chief finalists."

Real Journalists will have but a scant 15 minutes to screen candidates on behalf of their editorial boards. "How candidates respond to questions and the give-and-take of an interview in a public setting is invaluable," bleats the Times, whose commitment to public input didn't extend to a superintendent who diddled on her smartphone during public testimony at board meetings.

The Journalists at the Times -- who have earned respect through Years of Professional Expertise -- are being treated like Unwashed Bloggers.

It's painful to be left out of a clique. Welcome to middle school, Seattle Times.

Kathy said...

I've heard committee members have signed non-disclosure statements. Is this true?

Can this assertion be verified?

Anonymous said...

I'm not at liberty to disclose that.

Need to know basis

Brian M. Rosenthal said...

I can confirm - it is true.

Bruce Taylor said...

Hi Brian. No problem with you. Just with the editorial board.

Anonymous said...

Non-disclosure "agreements" for the "public" committee. Uhhh, so how does that make it public? I'm confused. What is the time frame of the non-disclosures? Perpetual? Until the Board announces its selection? Does the Board think that there's too much risk of the "public" committee derailing the selection process? Just watch out for super-secret-double-probation.

Oompah

Someone said...

Interesting re the NDAs. I wish I could "trust" them to make the right decision, as Charlie so nobly suggests. Guess I've seen too many goofy, poorly thought thru decisions of late to not be skeptical of the process. I want to trust they recognize they are representing ALL of the voters in Seattle - just just a few - and that the end decision will be what's best for the many, not just some. But I remain skeptical - and none of the inherent secrecy implied by NDAs makes me feel any better about the whole shebang.

Sahila said...

Charlie - are you just playing devil's advocate here, to provide a foil or something?

How many posts have you written complaining that the BOARD screwed up, again and again, and again...

why would you now write a post telling us all to back off and let them get on with the job?

Sahila said...

Relevant to power of school boards, ed reform and new supe coming in:

National School Boards Association to Prez: please change #edreform direction Please change direction

Where does our school board stand on this - will they join their colleagues, or stay under the thumb of Gates and his astro-turf groups?

Kathy said...

Brian,

What is the length of time committee members are being restrained from talking?

Charlie Mas said...

I don't necessarily trust the Board to make the "right" decision (I don't remember writing that), but I do acknowledge that it is their decision to make. Not only the choice of superintendent, but the process they use.

The Board makes a lot of faulty decisions and makes a lot of them in faulty ways. But there is nothing inherently virtuous about having the candidates answer questions from the general public, and there is certainly nothing about that being a requisite part of the selection process.

If the Board doesn't think that they will learn anything from the candidates answering questions from the general public, then there's no point to it, is there?

Just as the board doesn't learn anything from public testimony and the board doesn't learn anything from community meetings, they won't learn anything from seeing the candidates interact with the public. At least nothing more than they would learn from seeing them interact with their selected focus group.

Do you have a question to ask them that is so freakin' perfect that it will make the difference in the selection? Forward it to a member of the focus group or to a member of the press.

Anonymous said...

Non-Disclosure - remember that this is basically a job interview. When I participate in the interview process our company never lets us discuss the individual interviews with anyone outside the interview team. I think it's pretty standard HR/Legal procudure. Don't necessarily agree with it, but seems pretty standard for any large organization.
- Kimball/Mercer mom

Anonymous said...

This is starting to sound like they are choosing a pope, rather than a superintendent.

Let's see what happens when Chris K. has a Gladys Kravitz moment on her blog. Will Michael DeBell file a civil suit for loose lips?

His control issues continue to astound.

--enough already

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

Just read your comment on the ST about the pope, after I posted my pope comment here.

I guess it's pretty obvious I agree with you!

--enough already

mirmac1 said...

Perhaps there's some kind of secret initiation ceremony...

Jan said...

Charlie -- I disagree on a few points (mostly minor, I think). First, while the board needs (and clearly HAS -- unless they choose to foolishly give it away) all the autonomy they need. We couldn't take it away from them if we tried (and we mostly shouldn't, and don't) as our only points of participation are elections (thank God) and recalls (largely unsuccessful). But there is a difference in acknowledging that someone HAS autonomy and critiquing how they USE it (especially if, as here, in the long run -- these are OUR schools, and OUR kids, and OUR public assets -- we have only voted to allow them to manage them on our behalf for a limited period of time. When the autonomous authority-wielders use their autonomy and their power in ways that are harmful (debatable question here) and/or contrary to the wishes of their constituents -- they should hear about it. People should complain. How else would they possibly know that their decisions are making people unhappy? Heck -- the Board declines to solicit, listen to, or be swayed by people's opinions all the time -- but it has never occurred to me that people should not voice them. How would that have worked out for Martin Floe? This almost feels to me like a "straw man" argument -- because no one is arguing for less board autonomy. People who do not like the selection process have simply stated their opinion as to why they dislike it, and what they would have preferred. I don't really have a dog in this hunt, but have noted with interest the more open, less paranoid processes being used elsewhere. I don't think this process is fatally flawed -- though I think it might have been done better. What will REALLY matter is the quality of the Board's decision-making -- the actual substantive thought and deliberation regarding how best to match the strengths of these candidates with the needs of this District. That will require an ability to accurately assess BOTH of those things -- candidate strengths and District needs. I have no hope that Martin-Morris can do either; and little hope that DeBell or Carr really want to (I believe that both have already aligned themselves politically with predetermined, inaccurate views of both and adopted a deliberative processs that is flawed). My hope lies in the other four.

cont'd

Jan said...

Continued:

My larger disagreement is with the assumption that the sole function of the board in setting up this process is its own deliberative process. The Board speaks for and represents the voters of the District. Unless they are going to hunker down around a newly-elected Superintendent and ignore all input from people AFTER they choose one -- why would it not be a reasonable position for the Board to develop a selection process that allowed for some greater amount of access, or ability to participate, beyond a tight-lipped "focus group?" Once their selected candidate arrives, the good-will and buy-in from the community will be an important asset to moving forward. Why has the process so blatantly devalued any community input that is not tightly choreographed and prescreened? It has been years -- YEARS -- since there has been any behavior at a Board meeting that is "unsavory" or "embarrassing." (Chris Korsmo had her hissy fit last year -- but that was not at a school board event -- and she and her tirades are likely to get a seat in the auditorium anyway!) And as much as Sahila might like it, there are no demonstrations with torches and pitchforks outside the Stanford center.

They are the board. We elected them. They get to pick the process. But I see no reason why, having been fairly clunky, awkward, and ungenerous in coming up with a selection process, that people should not point that out. And I don't agree that just because a form of public engagement or access is not directly in support of their deliberative process, it is therefore irrelevant.

All that said, I think that having people rise up and toss two directors out (with fairly close elections for two more) has deeply rattled the in-crowd. I am not surprised by flawed decision-making from the remaining powers (both elected and purchased), as they try to scramble for cover from last year's elections. So, a clunky, ungainly process is not a surprise. Let's just hope that good deliberations and decisions come out of it in the end.

Someone said...

Jan has it exactly right - this is exactly what's been going around in my head, though not half as eloquently stated:

What will REALLY matter is the quality of the Board's decision-making -- the actual substantive thought and deliberation regarding how best to match the strengths of these candidates with the needs of this District. That will require an ability to accurately assess BOTH of those things -- candidate strengths and District needs

Charlie - you are too smart not to know this is the issue - one has to wonder why you are pussyfooting around it, verbally speaking ;o)

Someone said...

Jan has it exactly right - this is exactly what's been going around in my head, though not half as eloquently stated:

What will REALLY matter is the quality of the Board's decision-making -- the actual substantive thought and deliberation regarding how best to match the strengths of these candidates with the needs of this District. That will require an ability to accurately assess BOTH of those things -- candidate strengths and District needs

Charlie - you are too smart not to know this is the issue - one has to wonder why you are pussyfooting around it, verbally speaking ;o)

Jack Whelan said...

If I understand Charlie correctly, he would see it as a major accomplishment if everyone--board and staff--would just do their jobs. As in football, there's no consistent benefit and often very significant risks when a player is out of position because he's doing "too much", i.e., something that is outside his positional responsibilities.

So yes, if micromanaging means that a player is out of position because he doesn't trust a teammate to do his job, that's not good. And if there is good reason for him not to trust his teammate, then the solution is to replace him with someone who can do the job, not compensate for his ineffectiveness in other ways.

So let's get clear about what everyone's job is, what the correct policies and procedures are, and let's make sure that everyone is doing what they should be doing--no more, but no less--and everything else will more or less take care of itself. Right?

Sure, but the real question is how do you get from here to there, because where we are is clearly not there. And we're not going to get there if people just don't want to go because, for instance, they don't see it's in their interest to do their jobs or to follow policy, perhaps because they think it's stupid, or because it's too much trouble, or there's not enough time or money, or because they get more personal benefit from ignoring it--or whatever. There are no consequences, so who cares?

So what does micromanaging even mean in a culture that is this anarchic? Any attempt to get anyone to follow even the law is virtually impossible--unless you start filing law suits, as some of us have done with regard to this absurd relinquishment of board oversight in its approving the unamended Creative Approach Schools MOU. But I digress. . .

Clearly someone has to come in with a firm hand, even if only temporarily, to enforce what is already in the books, and people who don't like that will complain about micromanaging. So be it. If micromanaging means getting the district and board to follow it's own policies and procedures, I embrace the label without reservation.

My hope would be that a board majority with a likeminded superintendent will likewise embrace it and develop a plan to put the SPS house in order. The rest of us should insist on it.

Charlie Mas said...

I think a case can be made for the superintendent candidates to answer questions from the general public. No doubt about that.

I think a case can also be made for having the superintendent candidates answer questions from a small, select group representing the public.

In the end, some will prefer one over the other. What I care about is that the people making the decision are able to say why they chose one and why they feel it is the better choice. Once they have done that, then they have fulfilled any requirement that we can reasonably put on them.

I'm not saying that you can't kvetch about the outcome of the process, but I don't expect people to reach the same conclusions that I reach, only that they reach their conclusions through an honest process.

Anonymous said...

I skimmed Charlie's diary and I thought ... 'yeah, o.k.'

I skimmed the comments and ... it is hard to NOT see the fingerprints of the Alliance & LEV & DFER & SFC & Gate$ everywhere - what's up with the secrecy on the NDA for the committee of 25 ??

Shouldn't it be an open NDA, which everyone knows the terms of - 'you will vote and you can't talk about your vote until after the school board decides or midnight of May 20, 2010." ---

(pst - how many of you know that Microsoft employees HUNDREDS of lawyers ... !! is it confusing about where all this freaking public secrecy comes from ...? Billy The Control Freak, no? )

IF I could fund 6 or 8 Astro-Turfs locally, employing 40 or 50 people to all amplify and echo each other's conventional wisdom, it sure would be easy to demand our seat at the table - of course, the other 500,000 Seattle residents, many of who are non toadies to my Greatestness-ability, those non toadies might have different ideas about who should be sitting at the table -

BuyYourOwn50Toadies

Wondering said...

I'm absolutely fine with the board voting for superintendent- as long as there haven't been any deals made behind closed doors.

I'm starting to get weird vibes. There just seems to be too many things piling up. Is DeBell unilaterally making decisions regarding process? Or, has the Executive Committee as a whole signed onto this process? Is anyone else concerned the press only is allowed 15 minute interviews?

Anonymous said...

Geez. WHY does Microsoft hire "100s of lawyers?" They are mostly "patent" lawyers necessary in today's techno-corporate environment. Every little idea an employee has - needs to be documented with a patent or somebody will sue you. Conspiracy theories get you nowhere.

-watcher

Jan said...

Charlie said: "What I care about is that the people making the decision are able to say why they chose one and why they feel it is the better choice. Once they have done that, then they have fulfilled any requirement that we can reasonably put on them. I'm not saying that you can't kvetch about the outcome of the process, but I don't expect people to reach the same conclusions that I reach, only that they reach their conclusions through an honest process."

I agree, Charlie, with the idea that it is unreasonable to expect people to reach the same conclusions I do (my spouse assures me that it is entirely reasonable NOT to agree with my positions). I am wondering though -- do you think that the process in this instance was honest? And that we ever got an explanation (that was not pure spin) as to why they selected the method they did? None of it has seemed straightforward and defensible to me -- but I haven't followed the selection process debate as well as some (I was too busy working myself into a state over the Lowell stuff, I think).