Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Davis: Charlotte's hard on superintendents

At Tuesday night's superintendent search forum,  the talk was as much about keeping a superintendent as hiring one.

In one classroom at Myers Park High,  half a dozen people talked about what it would take to break the pattern of superintendents spending three to five years,  rolling out reforms and moving on.  One woman noted that when Gorman arrived in 2006,  he said he expected to be superintendent until his daughter graduated from high school  (somewhere around 2017).  She speculated that he meant it at the time,  but the job wore him down.

In the next room,  the group was larger and the comments edgier.  Several people asked board Chair Eric Davis about the search process.  He said he was just there to listen,  but eventually he joined in.

When Keith Hurley,  who ran for school board this year,  said the superintendent had been getting bonuses without accountability,  Davis told him he was just plain wrong.  Peter Gorman had specific performance goals,  Davis said,  and during the years of budget cuts Gorman declined a bonus even when he met them.

When retired counselor Dee Williams said the new superintendent needs to make eye contact when people address the school board,  Davis and board member Richard McElrath talked about looking at monitors to get a better view of speakers.

Near the end,  David Phillips talked about marketing Charlotte to superintendent candidates:  "They have to select us, too.  We have a house to sell.  We have to put our best foot forward."

That's when Davis really dived in.

"I don't think we have trouble winning someone,"  he said.  "We have trouble keeping them.  Pete came with all this energy and openness and eye contact.  Then he made some mistakes and we got mad."

Davis said CMS "made two terrible missteps last spring: That darn house bill and all the tests."

He was referring to dozens of new CMS tests created as part of performance pay,  and to House Bill 546, drafted by CMS staff and introduced in the state legislature to let CMS launch performance pay without teacher approval.  Both created backlash from teachers and parents, who complained that Gorman was overtesting students and eroding teachers' trust.

The CMS errors were compounded by negative public reaction,  Davis said:  "If we want someone who's going to stay with us, we have to support them when they screw up.  ...  We don't gain anything when we tear down our school system and when we bludgeon our superintendent at the public comment period."

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