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LAUSD asking public to rate qualities necessary in next superintendent

Mike Szymanski | October 7, 2015

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SuperintendentSurveyThe whole world can now prioritize the characteristics necessary for LA Unified’s next superintendent through an online survey the district released last night.

The question is — as some school board members pointed out before the survey launched — why would anyone want anything less than all 21 qualities included in the survey?

With a pull-down menu in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Armenian, the survey asks respondents to rate characteristics on a scale of 5 to 1, signifying greater or lesser importance.

They include such qualities as:

  • Hold a deep understanding of the teaching/ learning process.
  • Foster a positive, professional climate of mutual trust and respect among faculty, staff, and administrators.
  • Establish a culture of high expectations for all students and personnel.
  • Hold all employees accountable for their performance.

Some of these are “duh!” questions, and when the school board looked at them at its last meeting, several members said so.

George McKenna looked over the questions handed to him by the search firm on Sept. 15 and pointed out the obvious. “Why would someone not choose all fives?” he asked, with a reference to the highest rating. “I don’t know how you say no to any of these?”

Further, none of the charcteristics reflects anything specific to LA Unified, such as, “Has the political skills to balance the interests of an assertive teachers union and a well-funded state charter association.” Or, “Has the temperament to manage the diverse interests and personalities of seven bosses.”

Nor does it seek to learn if respondents want a superintendent who might stick around awhile, bringing a degree of stability to the district. Since 2000, LA Unified’s superintendent office has changed occupants six times. Long Beach Unified has had the same superintendent since 2002.

In fact, the charateristics cited on the LA Unified survey are almost the same as those in many of the other searches now underway by firm hired by the district to carry out the search, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

Nonetheless, board president Steve Zimmer tells respondents in an open letter , “The public will be involved in helping to shape the conversation and to provide critical input. I ask you to participate in every way that you can. Your voice as a stakeholder is very important to the Board of Education.”The survey page includes  a link to a booklet that explains how a search is carried out, and a report by HYA of what makes a successful superintendent. (Not surprising, it includes all of the characteristics in their survey.)

Board member Scott Schmerelson was insistent that the survey include a question involving the candidate’s experience as a teacher or principal, and the search firm complied, with the question: “How important is it to you for the new superintendent to have had experience as a teacher and a campus administrator?”

Hank Gmitro, president of HYA told the board that the characteristics were compiled as the best traits of a successful school superintendent. He said it was important to get input from diverse communities, and the school board members will be able to discern from the data what each district said, and how parents, students, teachers and administrators, among others, responded.

The survey also asks respondents to suggest “a good candidate for this position.”

The search firm is planning to hold community meetings at each of the six Local Districts in LAUSD and another at the district headquarters during the weeks of Oct. 19 and 26. Anyone from the public can attend any of the meetings no matter what part of the district. Not all of them have locations and times set yet.

The search firm plans to compile the surveys to allow the seven school board members to come up with the best characteristics of a new superintendent. But even that could be difficult.

“That we would all agree on the same characteristics would be a flawed assumption, given the bizarreness of one of two of us,” McKenna said. “And ultimately, this superintendent answers to us and not to all the other people answering (these surveys).”

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