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LA Unified board nitpicks survey for superintendent search

Mike Szymanski | September 16, 2015

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Hank Gmitro HYA 6.09.05 PM

Hank Gmitro of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates

Even before the superintendent search team passes out the first public survey, members of the LA Unified school board yesterday raised questions over questions that they want the community to consider in finding a successor to Ramon Cortines.

The board held most of the discussion in a closed meeting last night with the search team of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. That team, which seemed to emphasize secrecy more than the other teams that were considered for the search, said that most of the discussion over the first part of the search should be held outside of public scrutiny.

Board member Mónica Garcia even asked, “Can the public know specifics about the calendar” and other parts of the survey? Hank Gmitro, of Hazard Young, answered, “That would have to go in the closed session.”

But, the parts of the meeting that were held in open session showed the board already fine-tuning the 27 questions for online and on-paper surveys intended to seek opinions from staff, teachers and parents that would ostensibly influence the search process.

“I know people are asking, ‘Why is she harping on this survey?’ but this is the first thing that people will be looking at in our search for a superintendent,” said board member Mónica Ratliff. She complained that the questions about management were toward the end of the survey, at 16 through 20, and thought those questions should be higher.

“People tend to focus more at the beginning and lose attention at the end,” she said. “I think management is important.”

Gmitro said he would randomize the questions. The search team, he said, would then use the information, as well as interviewing organizations and community groups, to generate a report for the board.

Board member George McKenna noted that when the community is asked to rank, one to five, the importance of certain skills, “Why would someone not choose all five?” He said, “I don’t know how you say no to any of these?” McKenna said he preferred questions that were more introspective, such as “Who are you?” and “What do you believe in?”

Gmitro said that their team picked the characteristics of the most successful superintendents in education, and wanted to see how the public ranked those in importance. “Not everyone will be an expert in all,” Gmitro said.

Scott Schmerelson said the first question on the survey should ask how important it is to the community for the candidate to have been an educator or a school administrator. “The number one question should be, ‘Have you been a successful teacher and administrator in a public school?’ ” Schmerelson said. “I’d like to know how important that is to people.”

In closed session, the board planned to work on the calendar and structure of the process for community engagement. They need to discuss such issues as how many different languages the survey should be translated into and how to get the word out to stakeholders, parents, community and staff members.

“We will be spending several weeks in the school district interviewing each of you and constituent groups,” Gmitro said. “We are going to have community focus groups.”

Then, they will begin the search for candidates.


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