Editor’s note: We will soon start a new state superintendent search.  In getting ready for the search that brought us Mike Sentance in 2016, I surveyed a number of local superintendents for their thoughts about what we should look for.  Unfortunately their voices were ignored as not a single local superintendent supported Sentance during the selection process.  Here again is the post from July 22, 2016 detailing what local superintendents said.  Their comments are just as pertinent today as they were then.  Let us hope they carry more weight this time.

As we draw closer to August 4th and the day the state school board will interview six applicants seeking to become our next state school superintendent, there has been no shortage of people coming forth with their recommendations as to what type person we need.

But there is one group I believe are uniquely qualified to have their voices heard in this instance because they are the ones who most often have direct contact with the state department of education.  They are local school system superintendents.

So I contacted more than 20 of them for input.  They are in all corners of the state and in all type systems, some very rural, some suburban, some largely inner-city.  Big systems and small ones.

In some cases, many of the responses were almost identical.  While this hardly comes under the heading of “scientific,” it is still an excellent cross-section of those in charge of our local systems and I believe captures the essence of the thinking of this community of educators.

The average experience level was 26.8 years, ranging from 18 to 41 years.  On average their systems interact with the state at least once per week and the primary contact is the local superintendent.  Here are some of my questions with select superintendent comments in italics.

Would you prefer that the new superintendent be someone who has worked in Alabama, or someone with no in-state experience?

One said prefer Alabama experience, but open to an outsider.  One had no preference.  All others greatly preferred Alabama experience.

“With the disarray in our legislative, executive and judicial branches, it is necessary a veteran school person with knowledge of Alabama politics lead our state system.  It is likely an outsider would be blindsided by abysmal funding and underhanded political maneuvers.”

“We don’t have time to sit dead in the water while a new superintendent tries to figure out the legislature, state politics and what our strengths and weaknesses are.”

“Someone from outside the state would be faced with a steep learning curve, while we need strong leadership with immediate knowledge.”

“We are in the heart of Plan 2020 with majority education stakeholder buy-in, so bring in someone who hasn’t been a part of this will derail the implementation, as well as destroy what educators have spent so much time doing, to prepare our kids for college and career readiness.”

Do you think a state superintendent should be someone who “worked their way up through the ranks” of public education with experience as a teacher, principal, etc?  Or is this unnecessary?

Respondents believed strongly that a new superintendent should have experience at multiple levels of education.

“It is an absolute to me that the person chosen have served as a teacher, principal and local superintendent.”

“It is very necessary that the state superintendent has experience as a teacher, principal and in a central office.”

“Someone with only theoretical knowledge of education will not be effective.”

“Without a broad base of experience, there is no credibility.”

“If I am having knee surgery I want an experienced surgeon who has operated on other folks in the same situation.”

“How can the cream rise to the top if it has never been part of the milk?”

What do you see as the role of the state department of education?

There is unanimity, though expressed in slightly different ways, that the state department of education is to give guidance and support to local school systems.

“Build relations and support with stakeholders.”

“A support mechanism for local superintendents.”

“The biggest cheerleader for our teachers and public throughout the state.”

“Provide teachers and employees professional development that has substance and addresses the issues that our teachers deal with daily.”

“Address the foolishness that goes on in Montgomery with legislators who think they know better than the experts how to lead public education.”

“The primary role for the state department is NOT to develop innovative plans, but rather to implement the basic policies of the state school board.”

“Allocate resources where they can make the most difference for students.”

“Report to the people of Alabama the progress of education.”

 What do you think the No. 1 priority of the state department should be?

As with the preceding question there is unanimity that the chief mission of the state department is to partner with local systems.

“Continued support of the Alabama College & Career Ready standards.”

“Continue the implementation of Plan 2020.”

“Provide leadership for local school systems while ensuring parents and stakeholders of Alabama that every child will get an adequate education.”

“Fully understand the intent of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”

“Advocate for the needs of students.”.

Final thoughts?

“This is one of the most critical hires in the history of our state.  Will we hire someone who will work with local systems or with the special interests who want to tear us down?”

“I think it is vitally important that our state superintendent have experience as a local superintendent.  Many people can theorize, but are they able to put those theories into practice and successfully carry them out?”

“It concerns me when there are those who would usurp the role of the constitutionally elected board charged with the oversight of public education in Alabama.”

“We need a superintendent who has risen through the ranks in Alabama.  Someone who knows the funding priorities of our schools.  Someone who does not pander to special interest groups.”

“In Dr. Bice’s administration, Alabama made great strides to move beyond the cellar of education nationwide.  This movement was made despite the work of special interest groups to take money and resources from the students we serve.  We cannot afford to let those same groups have influence on who will run Alabama’s department of education.”

“Essential to the process of problem solving is analysis and reflection and although one may learn the concepts in a textbook, this skill is only honed through experience.”

“If my child is sick, I don’t take them to someone who has a degree to be a doctor but decided to do something else instead.”

“The state school board has an opportunity to deliver a powerful message to all education employees which is “We are listening to YOU, not special interest groups.'”

“The state school board needs to re-establish their sovereignty as elected officials and embrace a leader who fights for students, effective caring teachers and administrators.”

“Why roll the dice on the unknown?”