Thursday, March 29, 2012

Now that's a secret search!

It's superintendent shuffle time across the country,  so reporters have been swapping stories.  Baltimore County, Md., takes the prize for stealth,  announcing a hire Tuesday morning with no public discussion or disclosure of finalists.

The Baltimore County board named Dallas Dance of the Houston Independent School District,  a 30-year-old with only two years' teaching experience and no history in Maryland.  Dance returned to Houston on a 6:30 a.m. flight, without meeting the public even after his hiring was announced.

As you might guess,  both the choice itself and the process are generating controversy.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board's airport interviews sparked a few  "you gotta be kidding!"  responses from fellow education reporters, but at least the CMS board has pledged to bring up to three finalists to meet the public in April.  The board gathered in closed session before and after Tuesday's regular meeting,  and again for two hours after Thursday's budget work session.  So far, they've announced nothing about the next steps.

There's been some buzz that  "up to three"  could mean one if there's strong agreement on a favorite  -- essentially picking a superintendent who does a public tour before the papers are signed.  It's been done by other districts, including Fulton County, Ga., which hired Robert Avossa from CMS a year ago.  Board Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart declined to comment on that possibility,  and other board members are referring all questions to her.

On the other hand,  too much openness has its drawbacks,  notes Emily Richmond, public editor of the Education Writers Association.  She recalls covering a search for state superintendent in Nevada where the board decided on an entirely open approach:

"The sealed envelopes containing the written applications were opened, and the board members took turns passing them around the room,"  Richmond wrote in an email. "Needless to say, the applicant pool was somewhat ... sparse.  One guy was a former supervisor in a Middle Eastern oil field who had never worked in a school.  Another was an elementary school teacher with limited experience. The board ended up picking the in-house candidate who was serving as interim superintendent."

And even then, the hasty choice from the six applications resulted in a split vote and controversy.

"Surely,"  writes Richmond,  "there has to be a healthy medium between that and staking out airport lounges?"

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