It’s official! As of this past Friday, DeKalb County Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ contract was terminated by the school board amid allegations of less-than-legitimate involvement with the district’s construction bids. I am not surprised that he was fired, just surprised that he was able to serve as the superintendent for so long. Especially considering the manner in which he came into the position.
I first started working for the DeKalb County School System in August 2002; that was my first teaching job and I was excited about leaving South Bend for Atlanta. Yep, I was wearing some big-A rose-colored glasses back then! That year also marked the first year for then-superintendent Johnny Brown. Now I will say that Brown made a lot of (incompetent and probably lazy) people uncomfortable when he started in DeKalb because he was committed to making some significant changes, e.g., those who were not qualified or worthy of district-level positions were sent back to schools. No leader will be popular with the masses; Brown was no exception. I did appreciate his desire to clean-house because there were secretaries making nearly 6-figures when he came in, while degreed teachers were barely making $36,000. I also liked his challenge of teaching Algebra to all 8th grade students. After all, if you want kids to have higher expectations for themselves we, as the adults, need to take the lead. Brown did just that. But boy oh boy did the teachers complain about that. I didn’t understand their concerns. On the one hand, we complained that people (outsiders) stereotyped urban districts and students as being ‘underperforming,’ yet we complained at the opportunity to change to perception. But I digress.
The purpose of this blog is to pose the question: What makes a good educational leader? Especially as it relates to K-12 districts. Many superintendents are required to hold a terminal degree, but there are some exceptions. For example, J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of the Gwinnett County School System, holds an Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree. Gwinnett also happens to be the largest district in Georgia, with approximately 160,000 students. By no means am I knocking the Ed.S. because I hold on myself, but I am starting to question the standards, credentials, or privilege used to select leaders of our school systems. If you read Lewis’ timeline in DeKalb County, you will see that he dedicated (for lack of a better word) 33 years of his life to the district. Some people would call that loyalty. Ok. Wilbanks has also dedicated a number of years to Gwinnett but loyalty does not always make for a good leader. What else should school boards consider when selecting superintendents?
- Should they speak with teachers, students, parents, and community members in previous districts?
- Should the candidate have recent experience working in districts where demographics closely mirror those of the prospective district?
- Is a terminal degree a ‘must-have’ or a bonus?
- Should the candidate be abreast of current educational research?
- Should the candidate be published?
- Have they established a presence on social media outlets? After all, everyone who’s anyone is on Twitter, right?
Out of curiosity, I have checked the web sites of a few companies that conduct superintendent searches. Many schools in the Northeast and affluent areas do not always require candidates to possess a terminal degree. Other areas are a little more stringent. But does it really make a difference? I’d be interested to know what other parents and educators think.