Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Challenge of Superintendent Searches - Klonsky's SMALL TALK on Boston, Racism in Westminster, CA?, Which Way Forward for SF?

Small Schools Movement leader Mike Klonsky weighs in on the Boston superintendent search struggles - Boston's Supt. Search Committee Can't Get It's Act Together

Why can't urban school districts get their act together when it comes to leadership selection and development? It seems like the districts with the largest populations of poor families and children of color, like Cleveland, St. Louis and now Boston, can't seem to hire their leaders and when they do, they can't keep them for more than a couple of years. It's certainly not because of lack of money.
Klonsky concludes: "Payzant [Boston's superintendent] will be a hard guy to replace at any rate. He was one of the rare ones who led reform, worked well with the teachers and still was able to survive for more than a decade. Remember his quote from my recent posting: "Small is beautiful, only if you take advantage of it."

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Currently, San Francisco faces a daunting task of also selecting a new superintendent in the next year. But we have the luxury of a little more time because we have a very capable Interim Superintendent - Gwen Chan - a 40 year veteran teacher and administrator in our district who is currently at the helm of SF Unified until July 2007.

Racism in Westminster, CA search?
Since visiting the 'OC' this summer and staying in the Westminster/Garden Grove area near Disneyland I have been following the antics of the Westminster Unified Board of Education's May 3:2 decision to withdraw their earlier offer to hire Dr. KimOanh Nguyen-Lam, a member of the neighboring Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education and Assoc. Director of the Center for Language Minority Education and Research at Cal State Long Beach. Nguyen-Lam would have become the first Vietnamese American superitnendent in the country. Dr. Nguyen-Lam is a former bilingual teacher for many years who speaks fluent English, Vietnamese, Spanish, and French. The district is 83% students of color, including 34% Vietnamese and over 39% Latinos.

The 3 white board members who voted against the hiring stated that Nguyen-Lam was unqualified because she had no experience as a superintendent or principal. But board members Blossie Marquez and Sergio Contreras and Asian American and Latino community supporters continue to blast the district for rescinding their offer to Nguyen-Lam. The LA Times reported on June 16th:
Sylvia Mendez, a retired nurse whose 1945 lawsuit against the Westminster School District ended [legal] segregation in California schools, was among the leaders of a protest staged outside council chambers Thursday night. "I understand how KimOanh feels and how all of our community feels," she said, "because my Mexican classmates and I too were told that we were not qualified — that we were not good enough or smart enough, when we knew we were capable of anything. I am back to join you who, like the parents who came together so many years ago at this very same district, are here to demand fairness for our children."
See the recent interview with Nguyen Lam from Nguoi Viet. Latino and Asian American communities in Orange County now seem to be now focused on changing their school board. Like Nguyen Lam's community and student supporters I think that racism in Westminster is a key factor in the decision-making of the board, and I agree with Ms. Mendez that there is a clear connection with the historic 1945-47 Westminster case.

Parent/Community Voices in Superintendent Searches - Strong parent and community voices in superintendent searches have been a challenge for districts like the 10,000 student Westminster Unified, to our 58,000 district in SF and other larger urban districts like Boston. But Boston's BPON [Parent Organizing Network] and others had demanded strong community input into their process, and it seems that someone involved in their search process leaked info to the Boston Globe and that unfortunately derailed their process. [for the record - I was called by several Boston Globe reporters, but I refused to comment on our former Superintendent and one of our current administrators that were reportedly being considered for the Boston Superintendency].

San Francisco Unified's Process thru 2007
In San Francisco we are issuing an RFP for search firms for our superintendent search next week and I and other board members will be specifically looking for firms that have a track record involving parents and communities as key parts of the search process - especially parents like Westminster's Latino and Asian immigrant communities that have been disenfranchised since way before the 1945 Westminster case began to break down the legal barriers to unequal schools in our state.
Click here for more historical materials on the Westminster case and - Mendez was a precurser to the much more widely known Brown v. Board of Education cases in 1954 and 1955.

Lastly, congrats to one of our former Assistant Superintendents Dianne Talarico in her new appointment to head Santa Monica's school district. Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd apparently conducted Santa Monica's search process. More Santa Monica Info.
Diane was a former adminstrator, union activist and special education teacher in our district who left to head Canton, Ohio's school system some 5 years ago. Best of luck to Diane and our friends in the Peope's Republic of Santa Monica :-)

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