Parents, community members sound off on superintendent search
by Staff Writer
As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools gets closer to choosing a new superintendent in March, area parents told superintendent search officials they want to see a leader interested in preserving the public’s trust and building teamwork throughout the district.
During a community meeting Dec. 8, at North Mecklenburg High School, about 25 district parents and community members gathered to give input to Phil Hansen, chief operating officer of PROACT Search, the firm hired by the district to search for its new leader. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education District 1 representative Rhonda Lennon, who represents the northern towns of Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius, also was on-hand to hear opinions.
“We are seeing a microcosm of how hard it can be to build a strong team in a school that has had a lot of principal transitions in a short amount of time,” said parent Carrie Kester, referring to Torrence Creek Elementary School after the meeting. “If it’s that hard at the local level, I can imagine it is extremely difficult at the district level.”
Participants were invited to answer a few key questions that asked what qualities they would like to see in a new leader, what the district currently does right and wrong and what they could do as parents and community members to help ensure the new superintendent’s success. The meeting was one of six community forums held throughout the district.
Themes that came up throughout the meeting included a lack of trust between the community and past leaders, including former superintendent Peter Gorman who left the district last summer; the need for the district to improve its ability to inform the public about special programs and achievements; and the importance of considering diversity during the selection process.
“When you volunteer in schools, you see the composition of beautiful children of all races and colors,” said school volunteer and education activist Christy Beth Kluesner. She pointed out that a drawing of a superintendent on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Urban Institute’s online community input survey resembled an older white man.
“These students look up to the people we place in power,” she said. “Why can’t that person be someone of a different race, or why can’t that person be a female?”
Toward the end of the forum, Lennon reminded participants that no matter who the board selects to fill the post, he or she will not necessarily be a miracle worker who can instantly solve the district’s problems.
“When that person gets here, we need to give him or her a little breathing room,” Lennon said.
Jeff Michael, director of UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, presented the results from its online survey that asked district staff, high school students, parents and community members to rank the importance of potential qualities, strengths and personality traits of the new leader. PROACT Search will use the information gained from the survey and forums to develop a position profile for the school board to use during the selection process. Michael pointed out that all groups answering the survey basically showed the same concerns, with every group, including students, ranking budget concerns as the district’s most pressing issue.
“Unfortunately, the cuts have gone into the classroom,” Lennon said. “Kids rarely, if ever, think about money, and this is the direct result of recent budget cuts really affecting the classroom.”
Michael also pointed out that high school students expressed a greater interest in finding a superintendent with a significant interest in increasing student access to technology.
“I think that shows that kids know what’s coming,” he said. “They know that education is going to become more technologically oriented.”
Almost 9,300 people answered the survey, 3,600 of which answered the open-ended portion. Michael said comments in the open-ended section focused on more specific issues, such as the school board’s proposed performance-based compensation initiative, commonly known as Pay for Performance, and the 45-minute extension of the elementary school day.
“Many of the answers show some real trust issues,” Michael said.
Michael presented the Urban Institute’s full report to the school board at its Tuesday, Dec. 13, regular meeting. The preliminary report can be found online at www.huntersvilleherald.com.
PROACT Search superintendent search timeline
• January: Finalize the superintendent position profile based off of information gleaned from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute’s online survey and the six community input forums.
• January-February: Recruit candidates and advertise the position using the finalized personality profile.
• Feb. 10-20: Prescreen, screen and interview applicants using position profile. Basic reference and background checks will be completed.
• Feb. 15: All applications are due.
• Week of Feb. 20: Present candidate materials to the school board. The board will choose candidates to interview.
• Feb. 24-27: The school board conducts initial interviews.
• Feb. 27-March 3: Determine finalists and conduct comprehensive background checks and Hogan Leadership Assessments.
• March 5-9: The school board holds interviews with finalists.
• Mid-March: Hire new superintendent.