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Superintendent Searches & More!

     Well, well, well...School boards do love to hire superintendents. With absolutely no sacrilege intended, school board members tend to think that they have suddenly become "wise men," looking for the "Star of Bethlehem" which will lead them to finding the "savior" of their school system. This person will then come into their school system and save their test scores and catapult their system out of the doldrums.  Yeah, they get their magnifying glasses out and pour over the glossy resumes and applications, confident that they will find the one super superintendent who will come in and put everything in order. Then, with all due alacrity, the public at large (yeah, they don’t give a hoot about what the teachers think) will salute their prescient efforts and keep re-electing them. But, rarely does it work out like these naive school board members expect. They don’t realize that these professional gypsies (more like snake oil salesmen) have worn out their welcomes at their previous shows, and that they are just re-cycled bureaucrats selling their services to the real hucksters — the executive search firms ("head-hunters") which make a whopping commission when they finally land one of these bureaucrats on an unsuspecting school board. For example, I wonder if the Atlanta School Board knew that when it hired Beverly Hall in 1999 from the Newark (New Jersey) School System that she was leaving that system in a financial mess. The system had already been taken over by the state of New Jersey when Hall got there. But, according to published accounts, she did very little to correct the situation. (Hall had previously been in the New York City system, arguably the most corrupt school system in America.)

But, as they say, a small "spert" becomes an "expert" forty miles from home. Ole John Haro only lasted about four months in the Fulton County School System before he called it quits. In this electronic magazine, we published an article concerning the "baptism" which Haro was about to undergo (see the Latest News section). It didn’t take him long to take his ball and go back to Minnesota. We hear that he was in a struggle with school board members over personnel appointments. Superintendents like to bring in their own sycophants who will click their heels at the slightest glance from the superintendent. Several top-level administrators in Fulton had already retired or transferred to another system. Fulton hasn’t had a decent superintendent since the last elected one about twenty years ago. Fox, Dolinger, Haro — all cut from the same cloth. After two of Muscogee County’s two superintendents were either murdered or committed suicide (both appear to be mysteries) in the 1980s, the local school board decided to hire local guys (Buntin and Sims). The two who met untimely demises (Nail and Burns) ruled with a heavy hand. Buntin and Sims were markedly different in their more laid-back styles — although Sims got a little highminded in the latter part of his tenure. Then, after Sims, the Muscogee school board decided to go on one of those "missions" to find the person who would come to town to "straighten out" the system. They "found" John Phillips.  He’s been controversial from almost day one. While he was in Bartow County as superintendent, MACE gave him an "Needs Improvement" rating. He still gets an "NI" in Muscogee. How long will he last? Nationwide, appointed superintendents last only a little over two and one-half years. Why is this the case? Well, they come in with their "song-and-dance," convincing the school board that if the board will only give them free reign, allow them to make a "few" key hires (translation:  chums from their past), and follow their plan, then the almighty test scores will go up. So, for nearly a year, there is a hopeful honeymoon period. Toward the end of the second year, the school board members begin to realize that this magic "plan" did not help the test scores one iota (and in many cases, the scores go down — because the discipline goes out the window since the new superintendent wants the principals to solve all of the disciplinary problems by acting like they don’t exist). Disciplinary problems aren’t dealt with because they are the unpleasant, nasty parts of running a school system. Principals are expected to quietly sweep the disciplinary problems under the rug so that the school board members won’t know that any exist. Meanwhile, the teachers are about to pull their hair out because without sufficient support from their administration, they can’t effectively teach the students who want to learn. It only takes a handful of chronically-misbehaving and defiant students to destroy the learning environment of a classroom. The students know this, and they begin to play "cops and robbers." Learning is negatively impacted, and test scores plummet even further. At the same time, school board members finally begin to hear the grumblings from the teachers and administrators (people with whom they attend church or synagogue or whose children attend the same schools). The superintendent begins to feel the heat, and he or she begins to send out resumes throughout the country. The process starts all over again. This is what is now happening in Clayton County...

     The most balkanized school board in the state has to be Clayton County’s. But, as far back as nearly twenty years, this school board has been fighting like cats and dogs. The players and teams change from election to election. It used to be the old-line, wool-hat-type Democrats fighting the upstart Republicans in the 1980s but in recent years it became the white board members fighting the black board members. Now, it is the Nedra Ware-Connie Kitchens forces fighting the anti-Ware-Kitchens clique. By all accounts, Ware and Kitchens, by their maniacal actions, are almost single-handedly responsible for getting the school system placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).  Now, these two self-serving board members, along with cohorts Carol Kellum and LaToya Walker, are trying to select a superintendent. Their top choice, Lonnie Edwards of DeKalb County, apparently didn’t make it out of the first round of voting because he could only garner their four votes (out of nine votes). Now, however, it appears from those close to the selection process, that they may be looking toward Barbara Pulliam. Pulliam is currently superintendent of a rather small school system in Minnesota. The St. Louis Park school system has less than 5,000 students.  Clayton County has more employees (over 7,000) than the St. Louis Park school system where Pulliam is superintendent. Clayton County has over 52,000 students. Pulliam has jumped around the country in her professional journey, with most of her time spent in Chicago (with the Chicago City Schools and the State Department of Education in Chicago). This year, she was a finalist for a job in the Christina (Delaware) School System. This is Delaware’s largest system — located not far from Newark, New Jersey where she also had apparently applied a couple of years back. Although it has not been established yet, some local educators are wondering if she has any connection with Jesse Jackson. Perhaps not. Jackson has made a couple of visits to the Clayton County central office this year — at the apparent behest of Ware and Kitchens. But, he seemed discombobulated when he found out that the interim superintendent, William Chavis, was opposed to the actions of Ware and Kitchens and that he is African American — as are two other school board members, Linda Crummy and Ericka Davis, who also oppose the antics of Ware, Kitchens, Kellum, and Walker. These latter four women are apparently not being advised as much lately by Harry Ross, the political buffoon from DeKalb County. Some observers think that they are now getting their advice from a lawyer from Atlanta.  (Perhaps more on this later.) If Crummy, Davis, Dr. Bob Livingston (a former superintendent), Barbara Wells, and Allen Johnson (a retired principal) are going to have any significant influence on who is going to get appointed superintendent, they need to get their vote strategically lined-up. Five votes trump four. The consensus from the school employees is that the system doesn’t need a person who promises to have all the answers — but rather a person who can bring all factions   together. Clayton County, like other school systems, needs a "people-person," not a technocrat. This person should be a person who has demonstrated that he/she knows how to delegate and knows how to make people feel good about their accomplishments. In Clayton, as in all of Georgia’s school systems, teachers need to be valued, honored, esteemed, and empowered to do their jobs. When school boards finally realize this, they’ll get off the treadmill of re-cycling superintendents from all parts of the country. It is a charade. Recently, the Houston County Board of Education "let" its superintendent resign, and the board proceeded to  hire a local educator who worked his way through its ranks. It appears that he has the respect of the local community. They know him. They know his family. They know his children. They worship with him. He has a history. This makes a difference. If a school board does feel compelled to go "outside" to hire someone, the board doesn’t need to go to Ohio or Montana or Vermont to find a quality person. There are plenty of good educators who are people-oriented right here in Georgia. Forget all of the "Strategic Plan" stuff. Joe Hairston, who "resigned" from Clayton County as the superintendent in 2000 had his much-ballyhooed "Indicators of Progress" which never really indicated anything but regression — but classroom educators were beaten over the heads with it. What Clayton County (and all other school systems) needed then and what it needs now is a superintendent with people skills. They seem far and few between these days.

                                                                     November 20, 2003

 

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