Ed Johnson, the conscience of education in Atlanta, fears that the school board is determined to unearth another Disrupter as its next superintendent.

He does not like the generic survey created by the professional search firm.

He offers a different example of the right way to find a worthy superintendent.

He writes:

Cita Cook: Suggestions for Hiring Next Atlanta Superintendent

Atlanta Board of Education recently hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA), an executive search firm, to search for the next Atlanta superintendent.  HYA’s search process includes obtaining community input by way of its Superintendent Search Survey.  The school board has scheduled the survey to be available through 28 January 2020.

One may easily perceive the survey is rather generic, embeds popular school reform language and ideology, can be used in a superintendent search process for any districts, and perhaps is not specifically germane to Atlanta needing to find a new superintendent.  When asked to clarify, an HYA team member confirmed yesterday the survey is HYA’s standard instrument that serves the firm’s superintendent search research interests, so is not specific and germane to APS alone.

Instead of filling out the HYA Superintendent Search Survey, Dr. Cita Cook provided the school board the following suggestions as responses, including an explanation as to why she had to do so.  Cita Cook is an educator retired from teaching at the levels of high school, community college, and university.  She regularly attends school board and district public meetings and is known for taking copious notes.

Cita offers:

I have always (at least since I was a teenager) rebelled against answering surveys in the ways in which they are usually written, partly because they are usually too vague, ambiguous, and unwilling to accept nuanced and complex answers.  I could not possibly answer the most recent survey due on January 28 without writing a paragraph or more on each statement that we are supposed to agree or disagree with, as well as about each skill listed, including ones not listed.

I hope this search will be much more flexible and creative than one based on a simplistic quantitative set of data that hides the sub-categories and disagreements within too many of the statements and survey answers.  I am, therefore, sending you a list of ideas about an APS Superintendent search that I first prepared in 2013 and have updated in recent months, including today.  If you have any questions for me, you can reach me at citacook@gmail.com.

Suggestions for the search, partially in reaction to the original 2019 Position Profile:

  • The Position Profile and other documents and processes (including surveys) should be clearly appropriate for an education position in an urban setting, not documents that could be used without much editing for a corporate CEO position or a non-education, non-profit leadership job.
  • Make it clear that this district needs a Superintendent with a deep understanding of and commitment to the need to uncover and overcome all kinds of inequities, including an awareness of how difficult and yet necessary this is.  Ask, for example, how they might take realistic steps toward making the District and education more equitable.
  • Do not make “transformative innovation” a priority or use the term “transformation” or “turnaround” because they are too categorical.  Since change can have negative, as well as positive, impacts, do not call for “change” or “innovation” just for the sake of change.  Raise, as well, the possibility that effective changes from the current practices might require undoing previous changes, including the possibility of returning to a version of what worked in the past or was not allowed to last long enough to show if it could work.
  • Instead of calling for support of “achievement,” encourage support for “learning,” as in a candidate who has “demonstrated development and execution of strategies that increase learning for all students,” including the ability to learn in different contexts and throughout life.
  • Rewordings of segments of an earlier standards for a Superintendent: “Demonstrated experience in managing and leading complex education and possibly other programs and organizations.”  “Demonstrated experience in acting with the highest levels of ethical and educational professional standards.”  Do NOT call for business or corporate standards or vocabulary (especially the term “talent management”), but you could suggest experience and ideas in how to educate business and corporate supporters in the basic principles of education, instead of the other way around.
  • Both the 2013 and the 2019 Position Profiles call for “knowledge of current and future policy issues, including the complexities and varieties of schools choice, such as charter schools, turnaround models, alternative education, and online and blended learning.”  Instead of these approaches, I and others would prefer that you call for an expert in helping neighborhood schools develop their own strengths, including through the community school model.  Ideally, we would ask for someone ready to develop a process for ending the existence of most or all non-neighborhood schools over time.  My fantasy candidate would have a sense of how to oversee developments so that fewer and fewer people would see the need to put their children in either charter schools or regular schools with wealthier parents.  This could also mean that those on the north side of Atlanta would no longer feel a need to fuss if their cluster borders were changed to include a greater variety of students.  Calling for “School Choice” is really announcing either or both the District’s leadership’s inability and unwillingness to figure out and learn how each school can be best for its community.
  • Expect the candidates to understand the social, political, economic, and educational history and complexities of Atlanta, its environs, and Georgia.  Someone who has not done enough homework to understand the different histories of North and South Atlanta should be removed from the list of candidates.
  • Both versions of the Profiles also call for “experience in motivating faculty, staff, and external stakeholders.”  Please do not ask for or allow any behavior reminiscent of motivational speakers and cheerleaders.  Instead, call for experience and ideas about how to encourage and support mutually respectful collaboration between the superintendent, other administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents and community members for key decisions concerning policies and practices.
  • Call for evidence of ability to have a respectful, collaborative relationship with employees at all levels and to create a district culture of Respectful Collaboration.
  • The new Superintendent should have had enough experience as a classroom teacher to understand the ways in which teaching is an art as well as a science and how important it is to match each teacher to the kind of classroom and subject matter that can benefit from and enhance their individual capabilities and knowledge in both content and pedagogy.
  • Instead of “An appreciation for the multi-cultural and diverse communities that comprise the APS District,” expect something more, possibly evidence of working well with communities in districts where most of the students were impoverished children of color, preferably in the South.
  • The new Superintendent needs to communicate effectively with a variety of people at all levels, from a CEO to a parent without a high school education.  And make them feel heard.  Too often, those who can speak to people at the top cannot do so with those at the bottom.  Ask for evidence that the candidates are ready to show respect for, listen to, and learn from ANY parents, neighbors, and community members, not just from individuals considered leaders.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

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