Mike Norman

‘Superintendent’s profile’ is kind of touchy-feely

It’s been almost five months since Walter Dansby resigned as Fort Worth’s school superintendent, and we’ve determined that the person who replaces him should be someone who “possesses excellent people skills.”

That’s somewhat of an anti-climax, but OK.

It’s the top requirement from responses to an online questionnaire and meetings with district employees and residents led by the consultant who’s helping the school board search for a new superintendent.

The board hired Ray & Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in August. The search is not expected to produce a hire for at least another four months.

That’s too long, I’ve said before. The fact that it has taken us this long to determine that “excellent people skills” are at the top of our list further illustrates my point.

Assuming we even know what that term means is a leap of faith. Maybe it means we won’t recruit Kim Jung Un. He’s busy being North Korea’s supreme leader, killing off rivals and watching over his shoulder lest he be killed.

If it means we want to hire someone who’s everybody’s friend, count me out. There’s no way the leader of an organization with almost 10,000 employees and a $696.7 million budget can keep things focused on the best interests of 86,000 students without ruffling some feathers, even those of school board members, from time to time.

To be fair, I like parts of the “superintendent’s profile” developed by Ray & Associates.

That includes the second item on the list, saying we want someone who has “the leadership skills required to respond to the challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community.”

And we do indeed want someone with “the ability to enhance student performance, especially in identifying and closing or narrowing the gaps in student achievement.”

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It’s good to seek someone who is “a strong communicator; speaking, listening and writing.”

Other things are fuzzy, like “able to delegate authority appropriately while maintaining accountability.”

The superintendent of a district this size must delegate tasks and responsibility, but accountability at the top is a given. It’s also why the superintendent can’t be everybody’s friend.

Some items have hidden meaning. “Has demonstrated strong leadership skills in previous positions” is a way of saying we’re looking for someone who’s been successful as the superintendent of another large school district.

That’s reinforced by saying that candidates must have “experience in the selection and implementation of educational priorities consistent with the interests and needs of students, staff, board and community.”

I’m sure “successful experience in sound management practices including appropriate participation of others in data driven planning and decision making” means something and is important to the district, but I don’t know what it is.

Almost any candidate who goes for this job — it pays “in the range of $300,000 plus an excellent comprehensive benefits package,” says the brochure from Ray & Associates — is probably going to be able to look at this list and tell themselves they meet the requirements.

But board members approved the list, so I’m sure each item on it is important to at least one member.

Sometime in mid- to late-January, when the board finally expects to interview top candidates, I can see the value in board members being able to refer to an item on the list and say, “Tell us about a specific experience in which you demonstrated that this is one of your strong points.”

And when it comes down to it, the response is what counts.

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