Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Norm Rice or A Nationwide Search for a Superintendent?

The School Board is preparing for a nationwide search for a new superintendent for Seattle Public Schools (see the PI's School district gearing up for search).

Meanwhile, the suggestion of having Norm Rice replace Raj Manhas continues as the topic of discussion at dinner tables and in offices around the city.

I admit to being on the fence about the idea of appointing Norm Rice as a temporary solution to the leadership vacuum at Seattle Public Schools. I'm opposed to government takeover of public schools. I'm not sure what Norm would do as an interim superintendent. And buying out Raj's contract would be expensive. But, I do like the idea of having Raj leave sooner rather than later. I worry about what is going to happen to Seattle schools (and the public perception of the schools) during almost 10 more months with ineffective district leadership.

And, the memory of the last failed search for a superintendent is still relatively fresh in many people's minds. As a colleague said to me at work today, would you rather see Norm Rice as superintendent or watch the School Board go through another national search?

Share your thoughts at the new e-mail address set up by the distict: Superintendentsearch@seattleschools.org. I've placed a permanent link to this e-mail address at the right.


Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Here is the email I sent to Brita yesterday. (I sent a similar email to a few other Board members):

From: Andrew Kwatinetz
Sent: Tuesday, November 07, 2006 4:11 PM
To: 'Butler-Wall, Brita'
Subject: I don't understand...

Hi Brita,

Reading your quotes & your handout from today’s Board meeting, I’m confused about your interpretation of the Norm Rice proposal.
It is not an either-or decision: you could put former Mayor Rice to use right away as interim Superintendent and still conduct your national search.

The benefits would be:
- Restore public confidence in the district leadership
- Will help pass the levies
- Norm Rice will be better at executing on the plans, making leadership decision, involving the community, etc. He is a more skilled leader than Raj, and knows how to solve problems in Seattle
- He’s more inspirational, and will help keep other senior leaders from leaving, and can recruit qualified candidates for the open positions (CFO, Dir of Communications, etc.)
- It won’t be as big of a deal if you don’t have a new superintendent by August (which is pretty unlikely, no?). (You don’t want to have to make Carla be acting-superintendent; let us have continue to have the strong CAO we need.)
- Brings prestige back to the position, paving the way for another great leader to come in as the permanent superintendent

I could even see Raj staying on as an advisor to aid with the transition. (They both worked at Rainier Bank together, no?)

Honestly, I don’t buy that the Board is the only elected body that is supposed to hire the superintendent. First of all, much of the public (whether unfairly or not) doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the Board right now. (You were elected on that same kind of perception about the preceding Board.) The ones who love Mary & Sally think all of the rest of you are awful, and everyone else is horrified that Mary & Sally would participate in a law suit against the district. The press has been extremely critical. (Again, fair or not, public perception works this way.) Secondly, the public doesn’t read the detailed job descriptions. They do indeed expect the Mayor and City Council to ensure we have great schools. And the Mayoral race undergoes much more scrutiny and competition, and as such, there are higher expectations of the Mayor. You cannot say that the public has given you their confidence but NOT the Mayor, and you certainly can’t argue that the public has not stated very clearly their confidence in Norm Rice.

I urge you to reconsider, and make sure you aren’t basing your decision on a defensive reaction. This really could be the best thing for everyone. Think of how much nicer your job would be if you had a strong leader in the Superintendent role, someone willing to take responsibility for decisions rather than make excuses for them like Raj has done. (And I like Raj a lot, but he really left the Board to take the fall for bad proposals, and he has more excuses than a true leader should ever have.) Please, please, try to keep an open mind rather that jump into a fray.


Andrew Kwatinetz said...

By the way, I did get a thoughtful response from Brita to this email. She said the idea of Norm Rice as an interim supt. was not presented to her. I am going to continue to dialog with her about this and a number of issues...