Seattle Superintendent Search Updates

The very latest update is that the Board will be having a Work Session this week on the superintendent search.  It's Tuesday from 4:40-6:30 pm in the Board conference room.   I would assume all the Board would be in attendance but who might represent staff will be interesting to see.

As for the community meeting held at Nova High School on January 18th, here's what I saw and heard.

It was an underwhelming-sized crowd, maybe 35 people.  And I wish there were more community meetings to get input.

President Leslie Harris led the meeting with Director Eden Mack in attendance.

President Harris said that "we want a superintendent for longer than 3-4 years and want someone who is excited to be here and leverage gains made for the next 10 years."  She said that Seattle is a wealthy city but that the rich/poor and race/ethnicity gaps remain and closing that is the single most important thing to get done.

It was noted that the application for superintendent had already gone out as of that date and that the district was looking for leadership; not just from educators but from others who have shown they can be agents of change.

The timeline is as follows:
  • January 30th (that would be this Tuesday) is the cut-off to create the finalist profile.
  • The Board will be accepting applications thru the end of February.
  • The Board will conduct private interviews with 8-10 candidates in the third week in March
  • In the 4th week of March, the Board will have narrowed it down to 2-3 candidates and there will be some form of public interviews/meet the candidates options.
The staff from the search from, Ray&Associates, stated that they had been having meetings with numerous groups for the last two days.

As you may recall, the Board had Ray&Associates put out a survey (which ended January 19th) and as of the meeting date, they had received over 2000 replies.  They stated that for a district the size of Seattle, that they usually only get 500 replies so our rate was very good.

There will be three members of Ray&Associates including one of owners, Tony Ray, and Dr. Gloria Davis, a former superintendent in Kansas and Illinois who was the first African-American superintendent in Kansas, working on looking for "themes" from the survey results (and any other data that the Board may provide like emails).  A flyer will be created and a profile completed based on those themes.

Then, they start recruiting which expands beyond want ads to two major conventions, one for Board directors and the other for superintendents.  They will be aggressively vetting candidates and checking references, stating "we don't want any surprises."  They don't want someone running from a job elsewhere but top tier candidates with demonstrated success who is committed to staying in this district.

On March 13th, the Ray&Associates staff will be back in Seattle to present the top 10 candidates via video.  The Board will be using a matrix to rate candidates.  They have used this process before and it usually breaks down that 10 to about 5-6.

March 19th will see another round of interviews with those 5-6 candidates with the Board using a different matrix.  That will narrow it down to 2-3 candidates.

It was then stated,  "By March 26th, you will have a new superintendent."  (Meaning, the selection has been made but I believe Superintendent Nyland is here thru June.)

A couple of readers at this blog were not happy with what they heard.  Despite the small crowd, I did like the meeting.  Here are a couple of reasons:

1) There was some diversity but I wished there had been some ELL parents.  Laura Gramer, who ran for the Board and who is deaf, had an interpreter and did a great job raising concerns for Special Education students.

2) Open-end questions with no cut-off time.  They asked the question and then handed the mic to anyone who wanted to talk.  It was not a controlled meeting at all and people wandered all over the place with their answers. 

I spoke several times as did Linda Kennedy, Kevin Washington, Eric Blumhagen, Ina Howell, Ann Sherran, David Sandler and Sebrena Burr.

We were asked:
  1. What are the strengths of SPS?  Many said the teachers.  Someone said the alternative schools.  
  2. What are you looking for in a superintendent?  Demonstrated leadership skills, compassion, proven ability to run a large organization, a leader who can mobilize parents and staff,  someone who cares about Special Education students and students of color, some one who will look at ways of replicating successful programs, willing to listen to the community for answers, collaborative, supports CTE, closing the equity and achievement gap
  3. What are the challenges?  A diverse city and district, short attention span for initiatives, working with the City, lack of diversity in teaching staff, school segregation, implementing ethnic studies, negotiating with the unions, looking back at work already done thru taskforces
  4. Any nominations?  Former SPS principal Phil Brockman, Everett superintendent Gary Cohn,  Dr. Brent Jones, Michael Tolley, "principal at Cleveland", Stephan Blanford, Erin Jones.
Then there were some general comments.  A couple of people, including SCPTSA president, Sebrena Burr, said they were disappointed with the process.  One person said parents/teachers should be on the search committee and Ms. Burr said parents didn't know this process was happening.  (I'll just say that the Board has one employee and that's the superintendent.  We elected them and they need to do this job.)

Ray&Associates said their job is to find quality candidates.  They said if the Board was not happy, they'd do it again for free.

One question was the eternal one about what if people drop out and one person is left standing.  The Ray reps said that it's important to give candidates the lay of the land, both for the district and the city they are applying to, and go over that with them.  They can't guarantee that candidates won't drop out.  (I think that signals getting 4 candidates, not 2-3, at the very end.)

Here are a couple of comments from readers who did attend:

I have some real problems with the search firm that has been hired to conduct the search for the Superintendent. I attended tonight's meeting at NOVA. This firm (represented by two white guys in suits) evidently spent the last 2 days downtown talking to, well, downtown. Tonight, they wanted to come out to the community. It seems that they did not conduct any prior analysis of the issues that are of concern beyond the walls of JSCEE. So, they relied on bland and (to my mind) pretty useless questions that (to my mind) were supposed to steer away from any real controversy and that did not really ask for more than boilerplate types of inputs. Very lazy. For the $$ they're being paid, they could have read up on the issues and asked for inputs on the types of superintendents that could address these issues. I feel that at the end of the process we're going to get a very bland outcome. I'm sorry these people were so uninformed in meeting "the community" in the evening that they dedicated to outside of JSCEE. OTOH as I walked into the meeting Phyllis Campano was handing out a flyer (she's the head of the SEA now?) stating that they (SEA, PASS) support continuing Nylund's (sic) contract. Well that blew me away.
I was at the Nova meeting last night and agree with Reader's comment above.

The overwhelming majority of people there seemed to have similar concerns that they want the new superintendent to focus on. People said they want a superintendent and district that truly listens to families and staff. They want a strong focus on equity and the achievement gap and finally addressing the huge needs in special education. They want the superintendent to be willing to look at the entrenched bureaucracy, reduce the bloat in administration and channel those funds into classrooms - hire teachers, counselors, librarians, etc. And I also heard a lot about the amazing things that individual schools are doing that are really making a difference but aren't adopted in other schools or they're funded and focused on for a few years but then they gradually disappear.

But the absolute biggest concern I have (and this was said by others at the meeting) is the lack of transparency in this process. The timeline is aggressively fast, and the search firm seemed to not understand district issues and were defensive when asked about community involvement. Where are families, staff and the community in this process? Sure there's a survey and a poorly-advertised community meetings but that's it.

I'm so glad that there were some incredibly dedicated teachers, staff and parents in the room. But many of the voices we need to hear from weren't at the meeting. Think about who is likely to attend an evening meeting or fill out a survey - they are people who are already in the know. They're people who aren't working multiple jobs and can take an evening to attend a meeting. They're people who have a computer and the internet. They know how to navigate the system and how to make their voices heard. And it's important to hear from them! But we also need to make sure we're making it easy for marginalized communities to share their views. And I don't believe this process does that.

The consultants kept saying, "well you can go to open board meetings and voice your opinion, you can email us, you can comment on the finalists." But by the time they choose finalists it's too late. Even if the board is ultimately the only ones who can vote on a new superintendent, staff and parents should have seats at the table through all aspects of this - from designing our search priorities to giving input on applications to sharing opinions on who should be finalists.
 I think the timeline is fast but you have to consider most of the candidates are already superintendents who will have the grace to give their own district enough notice should they be selected.

As for this,
Phyllis Campano was handing out a flyer (she's the head of the SEA now?) stating that they (SEA, PASS) support continuing Nylund's contract. Well that blew me away. 

Yes, I was quite surprised to see this but not a single teacher or principal spoke up at the meeting on this issue.  The last line of the hand-out says:

The process to hire a new superintendent has been rushed and filled with missteps.  Please ask the SPS school board to extend Dr. Nyland's contract and enter a process that is respectful of all communities and raises the voices of all stake holders (sic).

What missteps?  And was this a vote of the entire PASS and SEA membership?  I don't think so.  This feels a lot like leadership at the top trying to shore up Nyland.  And that's fine but don't make it sound like there's this vast group of people behind it.

As for stopping this process, I don't see that happening.


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