Choosing The New Superintendent: You Do Have a Say
Peter Simon in The Buffalo News begins his article, Superintendent Search Criticized: Public Will Have No Input on Who the Board Selects, with this:
The national search for a new Buffalo school superintendent has narrowed to two finalists, but the community won't be told who they are.Simon definitely has an agenda and I wrote a response to call him on it.
And that secrecy - as well as excluding public input - is drawing criticism, even from some School Board members.
Fact is, the public does have a say. Input was solicited from the Mayor, Board of Education Division Heads, various Hispanic Leaders, Rev. Pointer (president of the District Parent Coordinating Council), the Special Education Parent's Advisory Committee, union leadership, the Control Board, Chancellor Bennett, Regent Gardner, and Jerry Goldberg along with the rest of The Buffalo News Editorial Board. Further, the Board appointed a Community Search Advisory Committee, a committee composed of eighteen community representatives, two chosen by each elected Board member, that was involved throughout the search process.
In addition to Simon's agenda, what I find interesting is that the only Board members who claim to have a problem with the selection process (a process they agreed and adhered to throughout) are members supported by the teacher's union. What possible motivation would they have to cast aspersions on the selection of a hopefully progressive superintendent who will bring real change to Buffalo Public Schools?
In case The Buffalo News doesn't print my response, here it is:
Peter Simon, News Staff Reporter
The Buffalo News
1 News Plaza
Buffalo, NY 14240
Dear Mr. Simon:
I’m writing to respond to your article, “Superintendent search criticized: Public will have no input on who the board selects”—a response I’m sending along to Gerald Goldberg who, I understand, is in the process of writing an editorial on the subject.
Let me begin with the claim made in the article’s subtitle—“Public Will Have No Input on Who the Board Selects”—a claim contradicted by facts presented in the article itself.
Defenders of the search process say a public hearing was held in January; suggestions were solicited from the advisory committee; the firm aiding in the search conducted a series of preliminary meetings with community focus groups; and the board publicly released and was guided by a list of qualities it is seeking in a new superintendent.
It’s not just that we “say” these things happened. Thorough reporting would have revealed that these steps were indeed taken. To assert that points made in the previous quotation are merely claims that “defenders of the search process say” as opposed to facts in the public record betrays a bias I would expect in an editorial, but not from a staff reporter.
To begin with, the very process, the undertaking itself characterized as “top-down” in your article, simply abides by the tenants of representative democracy: voters chose us as representatives to act in their interests with enough authority to exercise initiative in the face of changing circumstances. We were duly elected to, among other things, select a new superintendent and employ the best process to do so.
Regarding that process: We in the public sector are often criticized for not conducting business with the same efficiency and regard for best-practices that, at their best, our private sector colleagues do. Those best-practice principles and business-savvy considerations, however, are exactly what we modeled our superintendent search around. In order to find a person of high caliber, we have, with Heidrick & Struggles, adopted the same confidential process used in many other top-tier city school systems … because it just makes sense.
Consider a hypothetical CEO of a Fortune 500 interested in an offer elsewhere. He or she knows that if found out by their current employer, his or her loyalty and resolve will be questioned and, if they are not hired for the position they are being considered for, they will, quite possibly, lose the job they have.
In fact, it has come to my attention that one potential candidate read yesterday’s article. He became very concerned that confidentiality would be breached and his current position might be jeopardized—a breech that could, because of the confidentiality agreements Heidrick & Struggles signed on our behalf, open the board up to litigation.
In order to attract qualified candidates, there has to be a guarantee of confidentiality. Period.
That given, as a publicly elected board we understand that there needs to be community involvement in the process of hiring, in effect, the CEO of one of the largest employers and service organizations in the County. The steps that you dismiss as mere “claims” made in the defense of our process are good faith and sincere attempts to involve the public, gather opinions and concerns and fold them into our selection.
In order to hear from the community what was important in a new superintendent and to explain the search process, last October Heidrick & Struggles—the search firm—and board representatives met with the Mayor, Board of Education Division Heads, various Hispanic Leaders, Rev. Pointer (president of the District Parent Coordinating Council), the Special Education Parent's Advisory Committee, union leadership, the Control Board, Chancellor Bennett, Regent Gardner, and Jerry Goldberg along with the rest of your editorial board.
Most importantly, Heidrick & Struggles met with the Community Search Advisory Committee, a committee composed of eighteen community representatives, two chosen by each elected Board member. The role of this committee in the search process is as follows:
- Represent a broad cross-section of the school system’s various constituencies and stakeholders, including but not limited to teachers, parents, students, government, business, unions, districts, faith community, and higher education.
- Review draft “position specification” and search process. Make recommendations to the School Board.
- Make recommendations to the search consultant regarding sources of potential candidates.
Work with the Search Consultant to decide on methods of achieving input from other constituent groups and those who we need input from. Ensures that the best possible input is gathered.
I certainly understand the desire to see what’s going on behind a closed door—especially when what’s going on behind the door is as important as choosing the next superintendent of such a challenged district. However, we have, within the confines of a process that has worked successfully in several top-tier cities, made significant attempts to solicit input from all parts of the community. I wish, in your article, you had made the same level of effort to give justice to the steps taken to gather community input and make it an integral part of our process.
President, Buffalo Board of Education