A new year: school starts in two short weeks (August 15) and there is so much to do. Every year, I try to refresh my thinking in the month between the end of the old year and the start of the new — we vote on the budget usually a week or so before the fiscal year ends on June 30, the district shuts down for most of July and then the administrators come back, this year on July 25.
It’s very hard to take a deep breath and reflect in the short space between school years, but this year I was more successful at it because I took a real vacation in July. I got out of town for a bit, and I read and thought and renewed my commitment to my school board work. (Here’s my ongoing reading list, for anyone who would like to follow along – in the comments, please suggest other readings you think are relevant and important!).
We’ve got big challenges for this coming year — the same old, same old ones like tight budgets and achievement/opportunity gaps; newish ones like the unprecedented teacher shortage in California; and brand new ones like the expected and likely imminent departure of our Superintendent for Houston.
The newest challenge–looking for a new Superintendent–is actually straightforward, though it isn’t at all simple. I’ll start by saying that I’ve always supported Superintendent Carranza, and I think he is a talented urban school leader. However, based on how events transpired, it’s now clear to me that he wanted to go for quite a while before he actually told the Board he was ready to leave. While I personally wish he had been more forthcoming with me and other Board members over this final year about his plans, I wish him well and I also know San Francisco will be fine.
I have been doing this work long enough–as a parent, then an activist and now as a policymaker–to see Superintendents come and go. No one is irreplaceable. We have a lot of strengths as a district, our Board is high-functioning and united, and we are high-profile enough to be an intriguing possibility for an ambitious urban education leader. I think the task of the Board will be to select for ability over ambition — I don’t care a bit for a “big name” and instead I want someone who wants to be here for the long term and continue to do the hard work of pulling together parents, administrators and teachers towards the common goals of excellence and equity.
In every district I’ve ever read about that has really moved the needle on achievement, the common thread has been a leader who stayed well beyond the average 3-5 year tenure of most urban superintendents. I want continuity and consistency of leadership, and yet I acknowledge that continuity and consistency are only meaningful when you find the right leader. This is our challenge.
Here’s what our community should watch for, and demand from the Board as the search gets going: a clear, well-defined process that balances input from employees (administrators, teachers, aides, clerks, and other key central office employees), primary stakeholders (parents and students), and elites (political leaders and funders). Everyone should know what input and involvement each group will have, and that input should be documented and public so that we know, as a community, how the Board is balancing that input and synthesizing it to narrow our search and select finalists. I think we’re up to the challenge and I hope we’ll be held accountable. This is the most important job we do as Board members.