Today's decision, tomorrow's direction

Focus on the Classroom by Rosanne Winter

This afternoon, our school board will make a major decision about the school district’s leadership. Board members will have three options: They can vote to extend the superintendent’s contract through school year 2011-2012; they can vote to terminate his contract immediately, designate an interim superintendent and begin the process of finding a new leader; or, they can vote not to extend his contract but allow him to serve out the contract’s remaining year. Each of these choices has pros and cons. The third option, though, holds the greatest promise.

Our current superintendent has been part of a process of strategic planning that has produced a document that will, along with the superintendent’s evaluation, be on today’s board agenda. The superintendent has seen and heard firsthand what the community expects of our school system, and this document lays it out clearly. However, writing a plan and carrying out that plan are two very different challenges, and our community has voiced clear doubt that the current superintendent can provide the inclusive, collaborative leadership that this plan demands.

In November, a new school board will be in place. This board should embrace the Strategic Plan, use it to set the criteria for selecting our next superintendent, and develop a superintendent evaluation document that is truly aligned with the plan. Our current superintendent would be free to apply for the position, and, if he does, would face a much more effective vetting process than was utilized when he initially was selected.

The Strategic Plan was developed in collaboration with the community. Its goals embrace improved communication, appropriate family/parent involvement, effective governance, respect for human capital, supportive resources, and accountability for student, adult and system performance. A key focus this week is the governance goal, which seeks “to develop an effective governance model that will help build a collaborative relationship that inspires trust between the school board and superintendent and empowers all parties to work toward shared goals.”

“Trust” is a critical word here. Whatever choice board members make today, they must do so with the clear understanding that they represent the citizenry and must respect the trust they’ve been granted. Members of the Collier community elected these officials in good faith, trusting them to do what is best for our students and for the community at large. Regardless of their vote, the board will hear dissenting views. The only right way to make a choice is to choose as if it is their own children for whom they are making the decision, for that is exactly what they are doing. Each child is a child of the community, and in this case is the responsibility of the board – not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

Whether it retains the current superintendent or takes a new direction, this time the school board must respect and utilize tested and proven processes to ensure the best kind of leadership for the district. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s worth the effort.

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