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OUR VIEWS

ECPPS seeks input on new leader; we have some

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

While the response so far has been disappointing, it's hard to fault the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education for its efforts to get public input on hiring the next superintendent of schools.

The board has scheduled four public meetings across the county to allow citizens a chance to give their views on what they believe will be the necessary qualities of the next school leader.

In addition, the district's educators and staff have been given their own hearings — three of them — and an online survey to express opinions on the subject. The district website also offers a survey for anyone to rate the skills, qualities and priorities that the school board should use to hire a new school leader.

Overall, there's plenty of opportunity for citizens to weigh in, and we'd urge more parents, business leaders, retirees, merchants and other local citizens of Pasquotank to contribute, because the selection of a school superintendent is very important for all of them.

The opening was created a few months ago when former superintendent Larry Cartner resigned after three years on the job. When Cartner came in, he arrived with high expectations from parents, teachers, staff and the business community anticipating a long and productive relationship. Then it all went sideways last summer. Cartner resigned; a $300,000 settlement was expended; and little explanation came from the school board on what happened. It left a bad taste. Even worse, it left a big hole in the management of the school district.

Thus, the school board is starting over and, wisely, is asking the people of this county and the district what matters most to them in the hiring of a new school leader. The Daily Advance has a few thoughts on that. Added to those from educators and the community, maybe it will help the school board find the right individual.

As it turns out, superintendent searches are going on in many school districts, as the job responsibilities have become more complex nationwide. Many districts are coping with the same issues as ECPPS: best use of standardized testing; attracting and keeping committed, motivated teachers; reducing the achievement gap among minority student populations; being effective in poverty-stricken districts — all as education budgets are tighter.

It's a tough job and there is an ongoing debate — some say crisis — about how superintendents are expected to perform in the changing educational environment. There's much to consider, but these general principles may help guide the local search.

Aside from the academic credentials and the required professional credits needed to be a superintendent, we recommended candidates who are highly skilled in communications, who are equally comfortable and confident in front of educators, parents and politicians. Now more than ever, superintendents have to operate in a political environment. It's the new reality for motivating actions from some — and securing needed dollars from others.

Also, school leaders must not only have the skills to articulate the mission they are pursuing, they also have to convince others that it is the right mission and that reforms are required. Additionally, they must be willing to engage the community in the good times and when efforts fall short — doing so out of a desire for transparency — while being reassuring that the district is in good hands. Visibility and engagement are assets to good leadership.

The best superintendent candidates will be teacher-focused. Teachers remain the boots-on-the-ground warriors for education. The best superintendents will have been successful in the classroom and will know how to see education from a teacher's perspective, how to listen and talk to them, how to work with them on solutions to challenges they are facing, how to motivate them, how to stand up for them and when to make changes for the good of students.

When possible, top superintendent candidates will have operated successfully in districts where some of the issues and challenges that form the priority list of the local district have been experienced and perhaps overcome.

The best pool of candidates will also include several who also possess that spark of creativity, intuition and drive that this school district requires. Finding those traits among the qualities sought may be the toughest task for the school board.

The process will also require the school board to adapt its thinking and actions around the superintendent's professional management style — not the other way around. If the candidate and board have agreed to the goals and objectives, and the board has done its homework in selecting a quality superintendent, the new district leader must have the freedom she or he needs — in fact, requires — to achieve those objectives.

Finally, the board should offer a contract term consistent with the time required see the agreed-on goals achieved. Incremental benchmark achievements can be set and agreed to, but the district needs a long-term commitment in management. The longer the better. If the board does its job on the front end, both education and the superintendent should benefit for as long as possible.

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