The South Orange – Maplewood community wants its next superintendent to be effective at recruiting and retaining good teachers, have a clear vision of how to provide an exemplary education, promote high expectations for all students, and be a good listener and communicator.
Those are some of the top characteristics mentioned by roughly 1,000 community members — including parents, teachers and staff, board members, community leaders and students — who participated in forums, interviews and an online survey conducted by a search firm on behalf of the district.
The Board is searching for a new superintendent following the resignation of Brian Osborne in June. Currently, the district is helmed by Acting Superintendent James Memoli.
The search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) presented the findings in a report to the Board of Education at a special public meeting Tuesday. The board approved the “Leadership Profile,” which it will use as it moves forward.
“The board accepted the profile based on all the input provided by the community,” said Director of Strategic Communications Suzanne Turner.
The full report can be found on the district website and as PDFs attached to this article.
Although the respondents represent only a relatively small percentage of the SOMSD community as a whole, they were a vocal and outspoken bunch. “It is clear to say that community members are engaged, passionate, involved and connected to the educational system,” wrote HYA’s Dr. Leroy D. Nunery II, who authored the report.
Nunery put it a bit more bluntly at the meeting, when he said, “South Orange/Maplewood does not lack for honesty and candor when it comes to feedback.”
Nunery called the district “a proud educational community” with a reputation for educational leadership in the state and across the country. He noted the strength of the core curriculum, the “exceptional arts program” and specialized programs that provide “unique educational experiences for all students.”
He continued, “The district maintains a recognizable student-centered focus despite the multiple issues that often complicate the delivery of sound educational programming within a large school district.”
The responses were compiled from months of public forums, individual interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, observations and an online survey.
The characteristics for a superintendent mentioned most often as important by participants were:
- Recruit, employ, evaluate, and retain effective personnel throughout the District and its schools.
- Have a clear vision of what is required to provide exemplary educational services and implement effective change.
- Promote high expectations for all students and personnel.
- Increase academic performance and accountability at all levels and for all its students, including special needs populations.
- Listen to and effectively represent the interests and concerns of students, staff, parents, and community members
The district has received 33 applicants thus far, and HYA is winnowing them into an initial slate of candidates who best fit the leadership profile. The firm will present that slate to the BOE on November 10.
The first and second rounds of interviews will take place in December, and discussions will include the three newly-elected members (though only current board members will selected second-round candidates.)
In January and February, the board will conduct a third round of interviews and select one or more finalists. A candidate will be hired sometime in the spring, and will start on or before July 1, 2015.
In addition to asking about superintendent qualifications, HYA asked respondents about what they saw as the district’s strengths and challenges.
Numerous interviewees cited the district’s “rich diversity” and “multiple [educational] opportunities” as strong assets. However, some said certain community members, such as immigrant families, are not as well represented and should be encouraged to participate more in the district.
The report noted that participants strongly believe the district must balance the “multiple demands of a quality education program with the complicated issues facing families within a diverse community.”
Some expressed concern that the district has taken on too many initiatives at the same time — such as the International Baccalaureate program and deleveling — leading to what some termed “initiative-itis.”
Budget issues were frequently mentioned, and participants worried about the district being able to create and maintain equitable education despite budgetary constraints and increasing mandates for testing and regulation.
In addition, communication from and within district leadership was cited as a “deep concern,” and it was noted that some relationships — within the educational community, the BOE and administrative leadership — were strained.
“Because of the community’s exceptionally high involvement and interest in its educational system, clear and consistent communication must be a high priority and regular practice of the new Superintendent in order for all stakeholders to benefit from the district’s substantial strengths,” said Nunery.
Finally, the report noted that despite “different interests,” key stockholders — including the Presidents Council, South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, SOMA Parents of Students of African Descent, Special Education Advisory Committee, and Special Education PTO — all “shared several points of common view, particularly around the allocation of resources and the execution of programs to respond to student needs.”