Tonight featured the long promised vote on the Superintendent selection. So that you don't have to read this whole entry, I'll cut to the chase: Dr. Alberto Rodriguez was selected.
Here's the longer story: on the first round of discussion, Michael Katz, Marianne Jorgenson, Elaine Brighty, Sonia Pope and Kathleen Anderson supported Dr. Rodriguez. Andy Churchill and I supported Dr. David Sklarz. Michael Hussin and Tracy Farnham abstained -- saying they thought we should re-open the search. Then, we took a brief break, and when we came back, Andy, Michael Katz and Michael Hussin had now decided they supported Alberto Rodriguez, meaning there were 7 votes in favor, my vote for Sklarz, and Tracy's abstention. I am posting the statement I read aloud below, for those who don't want to watch the whole thing on TV, but in brief, let me say that I am extremely disappointed in my colleagues on the School Committee -- who clearly were afraid of hiring a strong, experienced leader who frankly would have ruffled some feathers in our district and made some real change (which is why he so clearly had the support of the vast majority of parents in this district). This is apparently NOT what we are looking for ... and instead have chosen a person who is very nice, very likeable, and a good listener -- but one who has NEVER worked in a district other than Miami-Dade (a district about as different from ours as I could imagine) and has NEVER worked as a superintendent (1 year as a "region superintendent" but not the overall superintendent; 1 year as assistant/associate superintendent; 1 year as "assistant superintendent for human resources" -- although his CURRENT job is as a high school principal).
I want to say that I do respect Tracy's decision to abstain -- I do agree that there wasn't a "perfect candidate" and in that sense, she made a good call if she felt that having no one was better than having the wrong choice. And I'm very, very disappointed in Andy's behavior -- I think the decision to vote first for David Sklarz, and THEN for Alberto Rodriguez was a deliberate attempt to please all sides (the parents in the audience actually applauded when he said he supported Sklarz, but then ultimately he gets to be on the winning side and vote for Rodriguez). It strikes me as very similar to a comment he made when we voted for an electronic suggestion box -- he said he was in favor of it, but then concerned about, so he voted against it. This is not the time to play politics -- it is the time to make a decision and hold with your convictions, even if they are unpopular.
The following is the statement I read at the meeting regarding the selection (obviously to no avail):
This is a critical time in the Amherst Regional Public Schools. We are facing massive budget cuts, an urgent need for redistricting our elementary schools, and continuing challenges with reducing our achievement gap. The selection of an experienced and proven superintendent who can lead our district forward during this trying time is essential, and thus I believe we have only one choice: Dr. David Sklarz. He is the only candidate we saw who has extensive experience as a superintendent, a demonstrated ability to help all children succeed, and clear support from the community.
Dr. Sklarz has served as a superintendent in West Hartford for 14 years. The West Hartford district is very similar to our own in many ways, including the percentage of low income students and children of color as well as the presence of demanding and involved parents. He therefore knows what he is getting into and will arrive on July 1st ready to hit the ground running. This is simply not the time or place for hiring a superintendent who will require extensive on-the-job training.
Dr. Sklarz has demonstrated his ability to help all children succeed. A colleague of mine looked up the performance (% meeting No Child Left Behind proficiency level) for 10th grade students in different sub-groups in West Hartford and Connecticut as a whole for each of the MCAS tests (math, science, reading, writing). These subgroups were low income students, ELL students, and students of color (black, Hispanic). Students in West Hartford public high schools are doing substantially better than those in the state of CT as a whole for every sub-group. In some cases, students in these sub-groups in West Hartford are out-performing stage averages by as much as 20 to 25%. In addition, both high schools in West Hartford appear on the Newsweek list of best high schools in the United States, and both appear on the list of Top 35 public high schools in Connecticut.
These qualities are not just recognized by me: almost all of the numerous parents, teachers, and community members who have contacted me over the last few days (by phone, by email, in person) have expressed their strong view that the Amherst schools are in need of precisely the type of leadership Dr. Sklarz provides and have strongly urged me to vote accordingly. They recognize that this is not a time in which we as a community should take a “leap of faith” and select a candidate based on personal likeability, and were inspired by the ideas and vision offered by Dr. Sklarz during his visit to Amherst.
In sum, although I liked and admired aspects of both the other candidates, Dr. Sklarz is the only candidate we saw who has demonstrated through his 18 years as a superintendent that he can create top-notch public schools we’d like to have for all students and is prepared to meet each and every one of the challenges we currently face. Although choosing a strong leader, who may by necessity ruffle some feathers in order to make some much-needed changes in our schools, is scary to some, at this critical time we desperately need a decisive, experienced, and proven superintendent who can provide vision, create curriculum alignment, and demand excellence from students, teachers, and administrators. I therefore urge my fellow School Committee members to join me in voting unanimously for Dr. David Sklarz.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.