Why not Norm Rice AND a national search?

There’s a lot of finger-pointing these days at Seattle Public Schools. Who is to blame for the crisis we are in: Superintendent Raj Manhas? The School Board? The angry protestors? The State for under-funding education? The one thing we know for sure is: It’s the children who suffer when the adults can’t provide the necessary leadership.

Along comes a great suggestion from a group of community leaders who understand that it doesn’t matter who is to blame—the real question is: What are we going to do about it? And one leader is so passionate that he has offered up his own services. That leader is former Mayor Norm Rice.

Contrary to reports, nobody has asked the School Board to choose between Norm Rice or a national search. Norm Rice has offered to serve only as interim Superintendent while the best long-term candidate is identified. And, let’s face it: After Superintendent Manhas’ much publicized difficulties with the School Board and parents, it might take longer than year-end to find a replacement. It will certainly be harder than the School Board’s botched national search three years ago which yielded nothing when all of the finalists withdrew their names.

Meanwhile, who is leading the district? Despite Superintendent Manhas’ best intentions, he will be unable to champion much-needed change without the support of the School Board or the community. And, other district executives are jumping ship. The CFO and Director of Communications have resigned, and there are signs that others will follow. How is a leader who is leaving supposed to convince others to stay or effectively recruit the most talented replacements?

Norm Rice, on the other hand, is a proven, decisive leader, who understands this city and knows how to unite communities. He is capable of rebuilding confidence from an increasingly discontented public whom we rely on for support when our district levies come up for renewal in February. Norm Rice brings prestige back to the position, paving the way for a world-class superintendent to follow.

How disappointing that the first reported reaction of the School Board was negative. Now is not the time for egos and power struggles—there’s too much at stake. No more finger pointing or defiance. Norm Rice doesn’t need this job. It’s all about helping the children in our great city, who deserve much better than they are getting. It’s time we all stood together for a change. No matter what your opinion is about who got us into this mess, there is no denying that former Mayor Norm Rice is the most logical, constructive idea we’ve heard yet for working together to get us out of it.

(Originally written, along with input from other CPPS Board members, to submit as guest editorial to the Seattle Times, but looks like they're already covered with Lyn Varner's editorial in today's paper.)

And to reiterate what Beth said below in her post, please make your views on the superintendent known, whatever they are. You can email them to Superintendentsearch@seattleschools.org (now a featured link on the right side of this blog).


Beth Bakeman said…
You've convinced me, Andrew.

Last night in my grad school class, the Dean of the School of Education presented virtually the same argument.

The missing piece of information, for me, was that the Norm Rice appointment wasn't a permanent solution. That is not how it's been reported in the press until Lynne Varner's editorial today.
Anonymous said…
I think that Norm Rice would be a front for his wife Constance, who has advanced degrees in higher education from the UW, and who's received a number of honorary or appointed positions from various groups.

She has taught community college students, and has held a number of administrative positions, most notably as the Chancellor of the Seattle Community Colleges. She has no substantial experience as a public school teacher or principal.

From a friend who worked for Norm Rice when he was an elected public official, I understand that Constance Rice writes Ph.D. in her signature, instructs all staff to address her as Doctor Rice, and is partial to showy words such as "interface" instead of talk, "catalyze" instead of manage, and "action plans" instead of goals.
I just heard from Brita that she didn't know the Norm Rice appointment wasn't a permanent solution either. Now she knows, so hopefully they will reconsider.
Anonymous said…
Well, and that's why the Mayor should perhaps talk to the Board before he confabs with everyone but the Board. I echo everyone else; Rice was never presented as an interim. Note, we still have to pay Manhas if we get Rice. More money out the door.

I still think we could find someone by year's end (if the Board started now and remembered to Google the finalists names before they are announced so they can answer to any crimes against education) and if Rice wants to throw his hat in the ring fine. I'm not sure I think Rice being superintendent for 8 months is going to make a difference.
Beth Bakeman said…
FYI, here's the auto-reply being sent by the superintendent search e-mail address right now:

"We value and appreciate your comments regarding the district's superintendent search. Please note that the school board is committed to adhering to a search process that is characterized by both transparency and clearly defined opportunities for community input. We welcome input from all members of our community regarding the search process, candidate criteria, and specific candidates. We want to express that we are especially appreciative that a longstanding civic leader is already mentioned as a possible candidate.

We have set up an email address ‘Superintendentsearch@seattleschools.org’ and will also take phone calls through our board office at 206-252-0040. We will give regular updates to the community on the search process at our bimonthly board meetings and via the district website. Once we have selected our search firm and communications consultant, we will design a clear structure and timeline for soliciting input from the community, both from individuals and organizational stakeholders.

I will include this email among other public input that we are accumulating on the subject. In this way each board member along with key district leadership will have the opportunity to further review your recommendations as deliberations continue."
Charlie Mas said…
How is it that people can argue that Raj Manhas won't be effective when people know that he is leaving soon, but they believe that Norm Rice can be effective as an interim - when people know that he is leaving soon.
Beth Bakeman said…

1) Norm Rice has leadership and political skills, and Raj doesn't.

2) Raj is leaving the job because he wasn't successful. Norm would be leaving the job because he was successful -- in improving the public image of Seattle Schools and in helping lead a successful search for a superintendent.
Roy Smith said…
Echoing Beth's response to Charlie, Mayor Rice's mandate would be to provide good leadership during the transition and to set the new Superintendent and the District up for success. His success would be measured against a much different yardstick than Raj's has been.

One of the main criteria for judging whether Mayor Rice was successful or not would be whether or not his successor was a) somebody who has the tools to be successful and b) was left with a district that had an environment that was prepared to move in a positive direction.

Overall, I think this proposal is an excellent idea.
Anonymous said…
We need an EDUCATOR for Superintendent. Period.

Also, anyone endorsed by our current mayor, Mayor Nickels - who continuely puts the developers before the people- anyone endorsed by him is a definite NO! We won't have any schools left by the time his cronies finish! ...Could it be the Seattle Times endorses school closures because of the private interests at hand. Could it be there is a push from private interests to appoint School Board members because developers, with their political influence and money, can put who they want on the School Board to make sure closures happen, no questions asked.

By the way, we don't need to close schools. Closures have been backed by special interests from the very beginning, from charter school needs to developers that are searching for more land. We currently have roughly 5,000 more students in the district than in 1989-which was the last time we closed schools. We are not a district of half empty schools!!! The closure plan that has been put before the people is based on a 2014 enrollment projection. If we close schools based on a 2014 projection, what happens to the students we have now?

(Also, when the district looked into available capacity in buildings, head-start and pre-school programs using space in buildings were counted as unused spaces. Where does early childhood education fit into the districts over-all plan?)

The district has failed to show us a plan. They have not analyzed where the children are going to go. What the effects of maximum class sizes will have on children- and how MAXIMUM class sizes serve any child in a positive way. The district says they want to reduce teacher turn-over, yet doesn't over crowding schools increase teacher stress and lead to teacher burn-out? The district has said that they want more community involvement, yet they propose a plan that moves children farther away from their communities. The district has said they want to address disproportionality in disciplinary actions, yet they are going to over-crowd schools. Putting children in insecure enviornments is one way in which bullies are created. Where are you more likely to have problems with bullies, in classes with 18-22 students, or in classes with 26-32 students?

These are only a few of the questions that have remained unanswered. Questions that naturally come up amongst educators. Questions that people who approach education from a business mans perspective often seem to miss. We aren't canning sardines, we're educating children.

The citizens of Seattle have been told that atleast 50% of the money saved from these closures will go into academics, but what's the point of having more books, newer books if class sizes are so large teachers can't meet all the needs of their students. More money will go into tutoring, something we could have avoided in the first place if we'd left class sizes small.

We need an educator for Superintendent because these are the kinds of issues educators understand. How does one know the best way to spend money in education if one does not understand child developement, if one does not understand education.

Manhas stepping down has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to our district - if we put the right leader in his place. The Chief Operating Officer is the individual that oversees the budgets of the Seattle School District. When the Seattle School District over shot their budget by over $35milion, the Chief Operating Officer was Raj Manhas.
So, how about before we do anything with school closures or any major curriculm adoptions, we take the time to make sure our budgets are completely transparent to the tax payers. The deficit we are 'supposedly' facing this year is somewhere around 5% of our budget. Does the district mean we can't find 5% of our budget that could be cut, rearranged or better distributed in a way that would have no negative impact on ANY of our communities????

My intent with these facts is not to scare people out of the district. I was educated in this district and believe whole-heartedly in it. We are a district of many excellent teachers, of many excellent schools (despite what misleading WASL scores may seem to say) however our district headquarters is a rotten apple that threatens to infect our schools if we, the citizens, do not manage to get rid of the few district officials who do not put "children first"
Our district is not a sinking ship, it's a captainless ship.
In 2007 lets have an educator and a leader for Superintendent, and most importantly let's be one district united.
Anonymous said…
I echo Eve's opinion of the mayor and his motives. I also admit though I feel Norm Rice could be good in terms of getting support for the upcoming levy, his comments in the past worry me - the quote in the article in September (the link is posted here somewhere) where he didn't think he'd be wanted as Superintendent because he would be too radical and his past comments that echo the mayor's that schools should not be allowed to fundraise so the State will see how bad it is and have to fund more - I personally do not want to see my children's education suffer to prove a point.
Anonymous said…
The school board for Seattle Public Schools was elected to represent the public, not the mayor, and not any particular group. They made a significant mistake when they began by listening to insiders and keeping Manhas in place instead of cleaning house. Now that he has created a mess, he quits and the papers and a few individuals are taking this opportunity to smear the board and blame them for his mistakes.

Norm Rice might be a nice guy, like Raj, but he is not an educator and he is known as an insider, a banker and beholden to the mayor. Personally, I would like the board to hire someone who is an educator, is responsive and collaborative with the whole community. I don't want to see another administrator who does not uphold the stated values of the board.

In terms of the either/or arguments, do you really think that if Rice were interim supt being the politician he is, that there wouldn't be tremendous pressure to make him permanent? It happened with Raj, interims should not be made permanent, but that is what happens.

A note on the failed search: it failed because it was fixed in the first place. It was set up by Don Neilson's behind the scenes influence on the old board with the help of the corporate/conservative Seattle Times to hire Proact and bring us only "ed reform" privatizers. Those candidates, when the community got the names and googled them, proved to be hard-core privatizers all from the same stock as Neilson's Olchefske. One of them was under investigation by the FBI for her disatrous mismanagement of her school district monies that made Olchefke's debacle pale in comparison-she had also enraged her community to such a point that there were hundreds, not dozens of "angry" citizens at every school board meeting for over a year before she resigned under pressure.

The Seattle Times continues to stroke Neilson and anyone who will help lead the district down the path toward charters and any other outcome desired by the business interests. If they cared about the children, would they have defended Olchefske in print relentlessly long after Mary Bass force the exposure of the missing $35 million, until he was forced to resign by the pressure of the public? They didn't seem to mind the financial mismanagement as long as their agenda was pursued. They said they were confident Raj would stay the course on that agenda after Ochefske's departure, and he did.

I take issue with your complaints about egos and defiance, it looks to me as though your ego might be wounded by your inability to influence the board to your favorite for the position. I for one, am glad they had the courage to stand up to the pressures of the mayor, the commercial papers, and any group that professes to know what's best for the entire rest of the Seattle district community.

Your opinions will fit well with Varner, Neilson and the Times. but those opinions have not set any better with the wider community than the Times advice to the people to vote for the elimination of the estate tax.

(And, thank you Eve, for your thoughtful response. I especially appreciate your comments on privatization, development and educational leadership.)

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