Tomorrow night the Board will meet as a Committee of the Whole (where we meet and discuss issues on the agenda but don’t take action). The agenda includes an update on the district’s controversial math policy, including what I am told will be a discussion of possible other options to allow students to take Calculus by senior year (currently the only officially recommended route is taking a challenging Precalculus/Algebra II compression course in the 11th grade; to avoid the course, some parents are paying for a costly online CCSS Algebra course before 9th grade, or having their students “double up” in CCSS Algebra and CCSS Geometry in 9th grade).
The Board will also discuss the timeline and process for hiring a new Superintendent with our new search firm, Leadership Associates.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street. It will not be telecast or broadcast online, but recordings should be available within 48 hours of the meeting.
Tonight the Board conducted interviews with two firms vying to represent us in our upcoming search for a new Superintendent. It was interesting to hear their perspectives and there was definitely more overlap than difference in their recommendations for how we proceed. For example:
- Both firms recommended a confidential process (meaning only the Board interviews potential candidates) because they both said we will get more high-quality candidates that way. They said many good potential candidates might be willing to interview only if their current districts don’t know they are looking, out of concern for losing effectiveness or legitimacy if they are publicly a candidate and not selected (anyone who has looked for another job while having a job can kind of relate to that). On the other hand, I’ve committed to a real and substantive role for stakeholders in vetting our choice of a superintendent. Whichever firm we choose, I think we’ll have to design a process that includes important voices and input from outside the board (e.g., parents, students and teachers) while making sure that the process invites applications from as many qualified applicants as possible.
- Both firms also recommended an extensive community engagement process prior to screening and interviewing candidates. Their proposed timelines included time with the Board as a whole and individually to identify key priorities and qualities for the next Superintendent, then spending time talking to stakeholders doing the same thing. My concern is that, having participated in the Superintendent Search CAC in 2007, before the Board selected Carlos Garcia, that the engagement the Board conducted at that time was pretty lacking. We had two meetings with the search consultant and the end result of our efforts was what Commissioner Wynns called a “walk on water” profile of the perfect, unattainable Superintendent. I liked Carlos a lot and I think he did a good job for us while he was here, but he would be the first to say he didn’t walk on water. And he probably embodied 70 percent of what our perfect profile laid out. So “extensive community engagement” had better look very different than nine years ago. Also, the Board is going to have to participate — fanning out to escort the consultants to meet with our various advisory committees, with PTAs and with advocacy groups, ensuring all meetings are conducted in English, Spanish and Cantonese, and really making sure we get out there and talk to as many people and stakeholders as possible to get their input and ideas. We cannot phone this one in or expect the staff and search consultant to carry it. An idea I had tonight was to hold additional community meetings in every Supervisor district with public school parents and teachers, hosted by the Supervisor and structured as a town hall so the consultants, the district Supervisor and the Board can hear input. Anyway, the process has got to be real, it’s got to be inclusive, and it’s got to be substantive if we are to have hope of building good will and trust for a new administration.
- The timeline is likely to be four or five months at least. The Board will vote on a search firm selection Tuesday evening (name TBD, based on the outcome of negotiations) and then we will need to sit down and start calendaring the whole process: when consultants will meet with Board members, when they’ll be in the district talking to staff, parents and students, and how long they’ll spend advertising the position and inviting resumes. Then we get to pre-screening, background checks and interviews. There will be at least one new Board member, if not more, starting on the Board in January, so I also think we need to be sensitive to not making too many decisions until we know the makeup of the Board after the November election. It might not be the worst thing in the world if our new Superintendent is hired effective July 1 — just as planning for a new year begins. I am sure Interim Superintendent Leigh has some thoughts about that (he is in the sooner rather than later camp), but that timeline would ensure that we have the broadest and best choice possible. From recent experience I would not necessarily want a Superintendent who is willing to leave their district mid-year with little notice.
Finding a new Superintendent is a challenge for us as a Board and a community, but it’s also such an opportunity to come together and agree on some key goals and strategic direction. I feel optimistic after talking to the firms and I think this process will help us continue to move in a positive direction.
Today SF Schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia announced his intention to retire from education after 37 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. His five-year tenure in San Francisco has been remarkably smooth for a big-city Superintendent — on average, urban superintendents quit or are fired after 3-1/2 years on the job. I would say Carlos’ major accomplishments are:
- His handling of the district budget. Carlos’ tenure has been marked by unprecedented cuts in California’s funding for education, and still the district has seen achievement rise every year he’s been in the job. Schools like Mission, Everett and Horace Mann — long considered to be the district’s lowest-performing — have new sparkle. It is a credit to Carlos that the district has continued to move forward even in the face of these incredible cuts (I joined the Board 18 months after Carlos took over, and even since then, we’ve been forced to cut close to $150 million — with more to come).
- Refocusing district programs on the achievement gap. Carlos didn’t discover the achievement gap and he didn’t solve it, but he led efforts to tackle the factors that produce the gap head on — a standout is the work he did hammering out the agreement on how to spend the funds raised by the 2008 parcel tax have helped the district retain teachers, pay them more, and offer them additional stipends and professional development for teaching in the most challenging schools.
- Defusing the tension. At the end of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s tenure, it was pretty much all-out war between factions who supported or opposed the controversial Superintendent, and the bitterness persisted between those factions into the tenure of interim Superintendent Gwen Chan. Though the Board was controlled by the anti-Ackerman faction, the decision to hire Carlos in June 2007 was almost unanimous (Commissioner Maufas dissented). By the time Commissioner Fewer and I were seated as the newest members of the Board in January 2009, every Board member had forged a collegial relationship with the Superintendent and the Board began to coalesce. Today, a 4-3 or even 5-2 vote is quite rare. That doesn’t mean the Board doesn’t have policy disagreements, but it does mean that we are able to find common ground and move forward on that.
The thing I’ll miss about Carlos the most is his “life is short, don’t take things too seriously” mentality. He has his priorities straight, which is probably why many people around San Francisco are scratching their heads and saying “Really? But he’s still so young!” At this morning’s announcement, one reporter asked me if the real reason behind his retirement was illness. No — it’s actually a healthy understanding of what is important in life. Carlos has had a great career, and he has a great family and a good pension based on his many years of service in California. He wants to enjoy those things, and who would blame him? “I want to play,” he told me a few months ago, and he’s earned the right to make that decision. I’m grateful to him for the work he’s done in San Francisco, and now it’s time to pass the torch.
I can’t think of any reason NOT to pass the torch to Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza, and indeed the Board has decided to begin negotiations with Mr. Carranza for the district’s top spot. While I am sure there are other qualified and interesting candidates out there, I don’t see why we should spend upwards of $100,000 to search for them (that is what a Superintendent search costs!) when we have a candidate right here who:
- knows the district well;
- has fully bought into Carlos’ philosophy and management style;
- has demonstrated that he can work well with the current board.
In addition, I have studied several districts that have really “moved the needle” on student achievement and the common thread is continuity of leadership. Probably the poster child for that assertion is Montgomery County, Md., which until this past summer was led by Superintendent Jerry Weast. (Read the book “Leading for Equity” if you are really interested in the story of Montgomery County.) If the Board believes we are essentially on the right track (and I believe that a majority of the Board would say we are), then we owe it to students to continue with our current leadership philosophy. Richard represents that.
Finally, on a personal note, Richard has been an absolute champion for the changes we must make in our special education programs. It was Richard, in his first few months in the district, who came to me and said he thought we had to do an external review. He was right, and I continue to be grateful to him for his leadership in reworking special education.