Friday, April 20, 2012

Postmortem on the public parade

So Heath Morrison,  who's been tapped to Charlotte-Mecklenburg's next superintendent,  says he wasn't crazy about having to come to Charlotte for a public audition.  It's hard enough to announce you're leaving a district you love working for, he said.  Telling your board and your public that you're applying somewhere else but might be back  "creates some interesting dynamics."

Search firms and school boards face that issue every time there's a search.  Jim Huge of PROACT Search,  who ran the CMS search,  says the trend is toward districts bringing only one person to meet the public,  as the Dallas Independent School District is doing.  (As an aside,  that board has also sent members to visit finalist Mike Miles' district in Colorado before voting.)

Huge said the vast majority of PROACT's clients still bring more than one finalist before the public,  but Charlotte's two-day tour for three finalists was more extensive than most.  Board members got huge stacks of feedback forms and had follow-up conversations with many who met the trio.  While I've heard some skepticism that they paid attention,  every board member I talked to said they spent serious time reviewing the PROACT summaries and the individual forms.

The downside,  of course,  is that people who got excited about Memphis Superintendent Kriner Cash or CMS Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark were disappointed.  And both of them put themselves on the line without getting the job.

For Clark,  the whole thing played out on her home turf, with people she continues to work with.  During the two-day meeting marathon,  Clark said she found the events energizing rather than exhausting,  because  "I finally get to be Ann Clark."  She showed a more personal and engaging side of herself than people see in formal meetings and reports to the school board,  and she said afterward that she has no regrets.

She said her run for the top job inspired many former students to get in touch, including people in their mid-30s whom she taught as kindergarteners.  "That, to me, has been the most amazing part of this process,"  she said.  "I heard from kids from all over the globe."

Cash's candidacy inspired strong commentary for and against him,  from residents of Mecklenburg and  Memphis.  He apparently notified the school boards in both cities that he no longer wanted to be considered on Wednesday,  the day the CMS board was making its choice.  Late Thursday,  his staff sent this statement from him:  “After thoughtful consideration and the counsel of my family,  I made the decision to withdraw my name from the list of finalists.  We have made a tremendous amount of progress in Memphis City Schools during the last four years and it is my hope to see our students and staff members continue on an upward trajectory.  I congratulate CMS on the selection of their new superintendent and I wish them the best as they move forward."

It's interesting to speculate about what would have happened if Morrison had insisted that the board make a decision on him without a public tour.  But he did it and says he enjoyed it.  Certainly he made a good impression with a lot of the folks he met.

An amusing footnote:  When the CMS board did its first round of interviews at the airport,  hoping to keep the names and faces confidential,  WBTV reporter Dedrick Russell and I got past security and tried to spot contenders.  At one point,  Dedrick saw a man with a briefcase bearing some kind of educational leadership logo and asked if he was interviewing to be superintendent.

According to Dedrick's account,  the man said something like "Charlotte is certainly a nice place to be" and dashed off.  Dedrick used his phone to snap a photo of his retreating back,  and we spent the rest of the afternoon chuckling over whether he'd scared the poor guy off.

You guessed it:  That was Heath Morrison.

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