Mythbusters: Seattle can't keep a superintendent

Once again Seattle is looking to hire a schools' superintendent, just two years after hiring the current one. So you're going to read and hear a lot of people saying stuff like "What the heck is wrong with Seattle that it can't keep a superintendent? There must be something wrong with that school district/school board/city/community/whatever."

Let's bust this myth.

First, two years is the average tenure for an urban schools chief, so that make Seattle average, not below-average. If there's something wrong with Seattle, then there is something equally wrong with most other urban districts.

Second, which superintendent did these folks want to keep?

John Stanford? It wasn't an option to keep John Stanford in the job.

Joseph Olchefske? There weren't a lot of people who wanted to keep Joseph Olchefske in the job after he overspent the budget by $32 million. And he was supposed to be the "money guy". The Moss-Adams review of the district's financial systems revealed grotesque failures all over the place and a culture of intimidation. So, no. Not a lot of folks who wanted to keep Mr. Olchefske in place.

Raj Manhas? Mr. Manhas was given the job when all of the candidates dropped out of a failed search. He was hired by a Board that was getting voted out of office as a rear-guard action against the newly elected board. And he did what they wanted. He openly and actively opposed the Board at every step - and whined about them to the Seattle Times. He quit before they could fire him. Though he was praised for his integrity, no one could actual give an example of it. The man never kept even one of the promises he made. Read the CACIEE report. The entire first half is a detailed review of how Raj Manhas had utterly failed to do his job.

Maria Goodloe-Johnson? Is this the one that you wanted to keep? Really? Even after every member of the Board said that they had lost trust in her? Even after Pottergate? Even after all of the lies? Even after it became clear that she was wholly incapable of implementing any her plans? Even after it was obvious that she was both callous and incompetent?

Susan Enfield is the one I hear people say we should have kept. And that sounds okay, except when you remember a few facts. I will remind folks that she was never named superintendent. Also she never said that she wanted the job, she never applied for the job, and, when asked, said that she did not want the job. Is she the one that people think we should have kept? The one who didn't want the job?

So let's set aside this myth of the city that can't keep a schools superintendent. It's busted.


Catherine said…
So is it the same consultants helping districts all over hire these "two year" supers? Maybe the consultants are the first place something needs to change?
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Reposter said…
"It isn't a Seattle issue -- it's a national issue. Superintendents cruise in, make a mess, or do nothing, and then move on to the next more lucrative contract. They are shuffled around from district to district across the country."
Anonymous said…
The overconfident and underperforming Michelle Rhee, often mentioned to me as a great hero by people who know next to nothing about public education in this country and don't have kids in public schools, headed up the D.C. schools for just three years before she quit to bring her bad ideas to the rest of us. Mention that to anyone who asks why our school system/superintendent situation is so bad and suggests that "school choice" or scape goating our teachers might fix it. I really feel for all the teachers and principals who are working so hard to make things better for our kids on such a rudderless ship, though. Wouldn't it be great if this was an opportunity to get someone who really cared. Someone who loves Seattle more than their own career interests and isn't going to leave. Maybe this could be done without consultants.

Gen Ed Mom
Anonymous said…
No name calling policy doesn't apply to Charlie I see. Evil? Really? You may not agree with the things MGJ did or the choices she made, and clearly no one is required to like her, but evil? Of a woman who has passed on. Whose young child may google her some day.

And you wonder why people thought Charlie was being offensive when he was busy insulting the dying Cheryl Chow and then issuing the most lame non-apology ever.

Fair application of this Blog's rules warrant this post being deleted. Charlie can certainly repost following your PWN rules.

Anonymous said…
Another myth is that urban Sups last two years. Saw yesterday that the current data is four to six. Seattle is also much smaller than the typical big city school school system.

I think it is interesting that the four next largest Washington school systems (which aren't small and I would say that Tacoma has to deal with many issues that urban districts face) are keeping Sups for much longer periods. Spokane's Sup was hired in 2012 after her predecessor retired after five years. Tacoma just extended their Sup's contract, who started in Jan of 2012 as part of a planned transition during the retirement of Art Jarvis, who had been there for five years. Lee Vargas in Kent has been there since 2009. John Welch was in Highline for many years before moving on to the ESD. Bellevue and Seattle are the only ones that have had churn, and Bellevue's churn may turn out to be just one Sup who was a bad fit.

Anonymous said…
Also believe that Charlie needs to edit his post. I believe that term is juvenile and not adding constructively to the discussion.

Ann D
Anonymous said…
Add me to the call for Charlie to edit. I remember his comments about Ms. Chow and I thought they were repulsive. But remember, this is the man who called the entire school board "The Faces of Evil". He may be an expert about SPS but he doesn't like too many people at the top.

I grew up back east and my hometown is almost identical to Bellevue in population, number of schools, number of children in those schools and with a mix of both wealthy techies and lower-income kids. The supes there have served for 5 years with only a couple of exceptions since the 1800's. But what's always struck me about that city is that people aren't on a tear about the "bad" supers and "evil" school boards like they are here. Here, no one ever seems satisfied with the many options they have. Maybe fewer families would send their kids to private schools in Seattle if they didn't believe that everyone in the district was out to get their kids and do them "evil".

It's really baffling.

Patrick said…
I agree with Catherine. There must be a better way to hire supers. We pay the consulting firms a lot of money, and we've been getting poor results time after time.

As far as Charlie calling MGJ "evil", yes, it's a bit over the top. But MGJ clearly owed more loyalty to Broad and the reformers that she did for the District that actually employed her. She did not expect to produce meaningful results for the students, and had her bonus structure written to give her a bonus for shuffling APP kids around rather than for improving performance overall.
SWWS, not to split hairs but the use of "evil" in this case is an adjective, not a noun (so it's not a name).

I somewhat agree that he might not have chosen the right word and should probably change it.

SWWS, could you point us to your data on 4-6 years for an urban superintendent? Because I did a search and I could only find that it has risen from 2 years to about 3.3 years.

I think Charlie is right but also, Seattle is a tough town. But it's hard to be lied to so often, hear superintendents pledge fidelity to our district, say they want to follow their "plan" and then don't and so on.

Also, Susan Enfield told me (and others) that she had personal reasons for not staying.
Jon said…
What part of the evil description are people disagreeing with? That Goodloe-Johnson demonstrated that she did not care about the children of Seattle only about her career? That being in education while not caring about children is evil? Or is it just that we don't hold highly paid executives to any standard of ethics or performance at all?

I think the evil label applies, but I think it also applies to a lot of narcissistic highly paid executives, any exec who shows concern only for themselves and ignores the damage they cause to everyone around them. The bar for what is ethical and appropriate should be very high on people paid as much money as we pay these people, doubly so when an exec is being paid with public funds.
Charlie Mas said…
I'm a bit surprised that people object to my calling Dr. Goodloe-Johnson "evil". No one has a problem with me calling her untrustworthy, a liar, and incompetent?

Okay. I'm not married to the term. If it's a distraction I'll choose another word and make the replacement.

I wonder, though, if we share an understanding of evil. I suspect a lot of people don't even believe that evil exists or, if it exists, that it is something other than human.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson demonstrated, on a number of occasions, that she was disaffected to a degree that could be seen as pyschopathic. Her callous lack of sympathy - let alone empathy - for the harm she caused astonished me. Her management by intimidation, her mania to be seen as infallible even when she was clearly wrong, her insistence on good news even when the news was bad, her claims of success in wake of utter failure, these all strike me as evil. But I'll replace the word if it creates noise that masks the signal.
Anonymous said…
2010 report that identifies tenure of urban Superintendents has increased to 2.5 years in 2001 to 3.64 years by 2009-

Report identifying that the only quantitative study reflects a 6 to 7 year average superintendency with a 4 to 5 year superintendency for urban school districts -

Actually, I saw that first report, thought of using it but thought folks would say, "that was four years ago."

That last one was mostly North Carolina "and random districts" (not all urban) from 2002.

I'm not buying the 4-6 figure.

Anonymous said…
So what is your source for two years? Besides that being what the SPS board says when they are about to start yet another search of course. :-)

Charlie Mas said…
I don't know the truth; I only know what the District tells me.
kellie said…
I think it is pretty simple. You do a national search and you get someone who is willing to move for their career. Why would anyone be surprised that someone who is willing to move once, is willing to move twice.

If Seattle wants stability, they need to have a home grown search and hire someone with deep local ties to the community. That will definitely mean picking someone that many people won't like because if a public figure does their job, someone won't like them.

As SWWS said, other large Washington school districts manage to keep Superintendants for a much longer time period. I think that a local hire is much more likely to be invested long term solutions.
Back Off said…
"Time, one of the superintendent’s most valuable resources, can quickly be exhausted by special interest groups’ demands and community pressures (Glass et al., 2000; Harvey, 2003)."


"In regard to superintendent self-perception of effectiveness, lack of fiscal resources was cited as a major reason for inhibiting superintendent effectiveness (CASE, 2003) and for explaining why superintendents are leaving the profession (Glass et al., 2000). In the AASA survey (Glass et al.),"

Thanks for the link, SWWS. The above is taken from SWWS's link. When will the media pick-up up this message? When will the politicos and special interest groups promote the above message? Never. It is time for the politicos, the same ones that fail to fund education and LEV to back off.

Blaming the board is a convenient excuse to execute an alternative plan.
Anonymous said…
Wow, I am amazed how quickly the posters on this blog are to defend Cheryl Chow and MGJ and to reprimand Charlie. Think for a minute who has your and my children's best interests at heart. Just because MGJ and CC died tragically does not for one minute excuse them from the cynical yet banal manner in which they sold out our kids' best interests. If that is not evil, what is? I do not believe any editing is required.

I agree with Kellie that a local search within the state, at least, would be preferable to a national search.

David said…
Yikes, we are too ready to censor here, it seems. I have no problem at all reading that MGJ was evil. She had absolutely no regard for the children ostensibly in her care.
Anonymous said…
she said herself that she never lost sleep over the way her decisions affected kids.

So if not evil, fiscally disastrous? (pottergate) Damagingly short-sighted? (closures, re-segregation of district) Ruthless? (Summit K-12) Dishonest? (APP splits) Narcissist? (demeanor in board meetings and most interpersonal situations).

I'm sorry for any young child who loses a parent, but if her daughter searches MGJ someday, she'll find much worse than what this blog has to offer.

open ears
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mirmac1 said…

I'll say I believe that retention of senior staff is not the goal, first and foremost, of this district - although if you read the SpEd CCAP and listen in at board retreats you would think that is the end-all, be-all of JSCEE. As you can see from recent events, there's always another (equally "unappreciative") district to scavenge off the others.

I mean Highline took Marni Campbell fer chrissakes!!! Good riddance.
I'm reprinting for Anonymous (and we don't take anonymous comments - see the guidelines above the comment box) but only because it needs some refuting.

"This post and comment thread are a great explanation of why it's hard to attract and retain senior leadership. Of the people qualified to do the job, who wants to put up with this nonsense? Who wants to be characterized this way?

The constant micromanaging and criticism from the public and school board are enough to make anyone move across the country or go to work in the private sector.

Seattle is heavily populated with self-appointed activists (heck, look at the name of this blog), and that is the single biggest reason it's hard to retain talent. In most of the country, educational leaders are respected and appreciated—and somehow still held accountable for doing their jobs well.

In Seattle, everyone's an armchair quarterback who'd rather have a say in the game than see it played well."

Nonsense? The nonsense is people who are not doing their PUBLIC jobs. Sorry, if you want to work for a public entity, the public comes with it.

No one is "micromanaging" staff. Not the Board, not the public. Again,we are allow our opinions and it happens each and every day to city, county and state workers.

The "name" of the blog is Seattle Schools Community Forum. I'm unclear how that is a bad title. You may be referring to the address which includes save seattle schools. We kept that because the address was well-known; we have repeatedly said that is not the focus of our blog.

"In most of the country, educational leaders are respected and appreciated—and somehow still held accountable for doing their jobs well."

You know this how? I don't believe that for a minute and I keep up with national education news on a daily basis.

Charlie and I have always said we would LOVE to see this district well run. We would be out of a blog (save running news about this district meeting or that event) if the district was well run. Heck, we might even close up shop.

The day I see the "game" played well is the day I might just turn my activism elsewhere. But it's not a game to me - it's our children's lives and public education is the backbone of our economy and society.

The proof is in the pudding - our district is not well run.

Charlie Mas said…
Seriously? Are we seriously to believe that working as senior staff for Seattle Public Schools would be a paradise, but Melissa and I make it a hell? Is that really the narrative you're selling? That Melissa and I drove Mr. Banda from Seattle?

You give us far too much credit. All we do is report what they do - or, more to the point, what they don't do.

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