Monday, January 7, 2013

The unelected administrator hired by an unelected administrator appointed by a deferential school board elected by a tiny fraction of the public

Principals are not very high in the school system hierarchy, but I think they can make a big difference in the day-to-day experience of a school. The hiring of principals is entirely within the control of the local school district, so it would seem to present a good (and rare) opportunity for the district to assert its sense of the community’s educational values. As I understand it, our school board members don’t get involved in filling particular vacancies—that’s for the superintendent—but they could try to set the overall tone for what characteristics the superintendent should be looking for. I don’t get the sense they do, though. Instead—as with so many school policy issues—there seems to be a refusal to acknowledge that there are even any value choices to be made.

This year, our district is hiring new principals at my kids’ elementary school and at our junior high. When I emailed the district to ask whether parents would have any opportunities for input into the selection, the Human Relations Director explained that “The district will be inviting one to two parents to sit on the interview team during the selection process for each administrative opening.” When I asked how those parents would be chosen, he replied, “We are going to work with each school’s PTO.” I then asked who does the actual choosing—the PTO or the district—and his response was that
While the district does reserve the right to make the final decision regarding the selection of individuals for the interview teams, the selection process for parent/community participants will be a collaborative effort between the school PTO and the administration. We will be sending more specific guidelines to the PTOs when we are closer to the interview period.
He agreed to send me those guidelines when they become available.

I suppose any parent participation is better than none, but that process hardly seems like a recipe for ensuring that the choice of principals reflects community values.

Since neither you nor I will probably wind up on the selection committee, let’s put our two cents in here. More posts soon.


Matt Townsley said...

More specifically, when we hired a high school principal several years ago, we utilized a parent committee (6-10 parents, if I remember correctly, of students from a cross-section of interests and involvement), a student committee, teacher/staff committee and administration committee. Input from all of the committees was used to determine the candidate who would be offered the job.

I can't speak to the process in larger school districts, but the process described by the HR director appears, from what you've written, to mirror the process of the schools I am familiar with as well. The board of education hires the superintendent and the superintendent (or his/her designee) is tasked with hiring principals.

Jana Happel said...

I've found that in our large Tucson district the process varies by superintendent and what the individual school community demands. Where parents, teachers and community members are very invested in the school, a committee reflecting those groups and the deomographic diversity of the school does the interviewing. Then the committee forwards two names to the superintendent, who interviews those two candidats. The superintendent is not bound to hire either one. In fact, once the superintendent rejected the committee's picks and the committee forwarded a new candidate.

You make a very good point about reflecting community values. I think the choice of a principal is critical. Many superintendents do not value community input. But you should make it as uncomfortable as possible for that type of administrator. In the end, the supe can always disregard the community's input. But a supe who won't even pretend to care? That's where the board comes in. The supe works for the board and the board is elected by the community.

Chris said...

Matt and Jana -- Thanks for the comments! It's interesting to hear that there are other places that do make more serious efforts to incorporate parents into the principal hiring process. It may still be the exception to the rule, but at least that shows it's possible.

As for "making it as uncomfortable as possible for that type of administrator" -- I'm working on it! :)

KD said...

Our elementary is on its third principal since my oldest started school. I can't remember the district ever inviting parent input.

Sounds like the district is just making a show of community involvement. Of course they will select a parent that will go along with whatever they say.

This is some years back, but the Roosevelt closure committee was handpicked by the district, if I recall correctly. Except for a few affiliated with Roosevelt, the committee was clearly picked to come up with the conclusion that closing Roosevelt was the right thing to do.

I'm not sure how things could be done differently..have a lottery system to determine who can be involved in such committees

Chris said...

KD -- I'm not sure, either, but just allowing the PTO to choose the parent rep would be a step in the right direction. And why not have a larger number of parents involved? For that matter, is there any reason not to have some portion of the interview process be open to the public? It is when we hire a superintendent.