Wednesday, March 10, 2010
At least it didn't drag on. If Alberto Rodriguez was the wrong person to lead Amherst's schools, as he and several school committees concede, it is good to know that now. We hope the agreement reached this week spares the town a divisive and distracting legal fight.
Still, the misfire over Rodriguez's selection will echo for some time. It could influence how voters view the tax override on the ballot March 23 and complicate the search for the next superintendent.
Even as they look ahead and begin a new search for a superintendent, education officials must come to terms with what didn't work out with Rodriguez, who arrived last summer promising to be an agent of change.
It appears that criticism of Rodriguez's leadership from senior school administrators - solicited in advance of a planned performance review this week - was instrumental in the superintendent's departure after just eight months. The substance of those evaluations has not been made public.
As a result, stakeholders in the school system are left to wonder. Did Rodriguez face institutional resistance to the change he promised to bring? Did he mismanage that change? Was he even a good fit for the Amherst schools, or did those responsible for recruiting, interviewing and hiring him misjudge his compatibility for the job?
While no leader can be expected to please everyone - and, in fact, he or she can be expected to face resistance - compatibility is an important concern. A superintendent who can successfully guide change in Amherst schools must be prepared to work in a community that cares a great deal about what happens in its classrooms. The superintendent must embrace all the voices committed to excellence in Amherst schools, even if they verge on shouting.
It is unlikely Rodriguez was ushered out to appease school staff resistant to change. It is possible that the superintendent, who faces health issues that kept him away from work many days, was not prepared to mount and manage the kind of persuasion needed to bring about change. A leader who has a terrific grasp on the long view -- a quality that search committees applaud - can be myopic in day-to-day management.
In the best school districts, success is measured many ways - and people do not always agree about priorities. That demands patience of a leader, along with a thick skin. When it comes time to scrutinize finalists again, those responsible must look closely at why Rodriguez apparently failed to build trust and support within the school system.
The next leader of Amherst schools must be someone able not just to envision change, but to bring it about in a way that respects differing views, as much as is possible.
Though he goes out with a whimper, Rodriguez began his work last summer with a bang by commissioning an outside review of the school system. At his first Amherst School Committee meeting last July, Rodriguez read a consultant's report aloud, and in its entirety.
His conduct that night can be seen as a bold debut - with specific criticism based on interviews and data - or as a bit tone deaf. Providing the panel with a summary and then engaging in conversation would have been more respectful. It even looked a little authoritarian.
Nonetheless, the outside appraisal of the town's schools, conducted by Tennessee educator Irving Hamer, got people thinking. Rodriguez flagged problems that deserve attention, including his belief that the system is not doing enough to help lower-performing students.
The insights Rodriguez provided shouldn't be lost amid disagreements over the tenor or effectiveness of his leadership. Though he is gone, the critical perspective he and Hamer brought last summer deserve attention. It will fall to a new leader to set priorities - and be up to faculty, staff, parents and students to help that person forge the right change.
Note from Catherine: I thought this was just an excellent summary of the situation, with good wisdom for the School Committee, the acting superintendent, and the community (parents, teachers, residents of Amherst). Thank you, Gazette editors.
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.