Last fall, our overly-large school district starting looking for a new superintendent. Last week, the school board announced their decision.
And, as just about anyone could have predicted, the choice did not please everyone.
Fairfax County Public Schools has named its next superintendent — but the pick, Michelle Reid, is opposed by the county NAACP chapter, a Black educators’ group, several parent groups and hundreds of students, dozens of whom left class Thursday morning to protest Reid and how she was selected.
I know nothing about the new super, beyond what I’ve read in the paper and a few other places. But let’s face it. The board was never going to satisfy everyone, regardless of the candidates available. Especially the members of our recently-formed, obnoxiously-loud, and extremely sketchy (some might say Foxy) “parent advocacy” organization.
But I do agree with some critics on one aspect of the selection process.
And everybody said they felt left out of the months-long superintendent search and asked for more chances to give input.
“We feel it’s key that students should have a say,” said Jaya Nachnani, an 18-year-old senior at Mount Vernon High School. “We want to know if she’d be prepared for such a diverse and big county, because you know it’s a totally different ballgame.”
In the petition, students wrote that Fairfax’s convening of an 11-member student “stakeholder group” to seek their input on the superintendent search was insufficient and did not adequately represent the entire student body.
The school board declared at start of the process that there would be great transparency in choosing the new leader. From the standpoint of a community member (one who probably pays closer attention than others without a direct connection to the system), I didn’t see much evidence of it.
In addition reading everything I could find in the press, I also attended two virtual sessions conducted by the search firm. Both were nearly identical. Highly scripted, with little opportunity for interaction from those attending. It wasn’t at all clear how the feedback they so dutifully took would be used.
And, based on decades of experience inside the system, I have no doubt that whatever input they collected from students, even in that “stakeholder group”, was largely just for show. At best.
Anyway, the hiring is done. Our overly-large school district has a new big leader, and she has already embarked on her inaugural good will tour. Starting work on the primary goal of a big-system superintendent: making as many of the different constancy groups as happy as possible (while keeping the funds coming).
However, if I could offer her one piece of advice, it would be to meet regularly with and listen to as many students as possible. Really listen. Even after the photographers leave, and not just when standing in front of that big, formal, monthly student advisory committee you inherited.
Schools exist primarily for the benefit of the kids (or should) and they have a better understanding of what is happening inside those buildings than almost anyone, including their teachers. They can also offer great insight on what would make the learning experience better and more meaningful.
The photo has nothing to do with this topic. Just a shot from a recent morning at the National Zoo, a roseate spoonbill in the Amazonia exhibit.