Superintendent Search: Waiting for Superman

Superintendent Search: Waiting for Superman

Parents, teachers want new leader to meet everyone's needs.

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Wanted: Superman (or woman) to run top-notch school system facing severe budget woes. Must be politically savvy, hard-charging and a good listener with integrity who will always put education first, and meet the needs of the “whole” child while maintaining high standards in a highly diverse district serving nearly 142,000 students.

Oh, and an open-door policy would be nice, too.

Those are just some of the characteristics that local parents and teachers say they want in a new superintendent to replace Jerry D. Weast, who will retire in June after running Montgomery County Public Schools for 12 years.

Dozens of parents and teachers have shared their concerns, hopes and ideas during six public forums held throughout the county this week by Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, an Illinois executive search firm hired by the Board of Education.

HYA also has been meeting in focus groups with administrators, teachers, community leaders and representatives of advocacy groups involved with the schools. All told, the firm will have conducted 50 focus groups and forums over an eight-day period as part of the search process, HYA President Hank Gmitro says.

The firm is asking all groups to respond to three questions: What’s working well in county schools? What are the concerns and challenges? What are the desired characteristics of a new superintendent?

Gmitro says he and his colleagues have been hearing plenty, both good and bad, from those who’ve attended the sessions. The firm will compile the input as well as responses from an online survey, into a report to be presented Feb. 14 to the board. About 1,200 people have filled out the survey, which can be found here. Today, Friday, Feb. 4, is the final day to submit the survey.

Although the hiring of a new superintendent will have a major impact on MCPS, the public forums are only drawing from a couple dozen to 50 people per session. Gmitro says that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “People who are generally happy don’t come out and participate in the process,” he says. “A lot of people see this as a board decision.”

At a public forum held Tuesday night at Bethesda Elementary School, a group of about two dozen parents, teachers and other residents didn’t waste much time discussing what MCPS does right, but went for the jugular with a host of familiar concerns: worries about kids being pushed too fast and stressed out, overcrowded schools, growing class sizes, lack of equality in services for special ed kids, and lack of foreign language classes for younger kids.

“We are pushing way too fast and way too hard,” one mom said as heads nodded around the all-purpose room where the session took place.

Parents also worried about the impact of the county’s budget crisis on schools.

“I would hope that a new superintendent would have the guts to be able to fight the attempts to reduce the budget,” said one woman, who added that she’d be willing to pay higher taxes to save the school budget.

A mom and MCPS elementary school teacher commended Weast’s efforts to bring equity to all MCPS students, but thought things had gone too far. “We need to find somebody who knows one size rarely fits all,” she said.

She drew applause when she noted that the new superintendent has to be somebody “who cares a little less about his national reputation.”

Another parent wanted a leader who’d be willing to clean house and get rid of underperforming teachers and administrators: “We need someone who will push those teachers out.”

Quite the full plate for a new superintendent. Think anyone will want the job?

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