School Board Gets One Right


At its August meeting citizens asked for a town hall gathering to elicit community aspirations for a new school superintendent. The board agreed and on Sept. 29 we had a good turnout for the kind of civil dialogue we should have been having all along.

There is good reason to hope we can find a superintendent who is not a superhero or rock star, but has a proven track record that predicts success. We have an amazing school district with small town attributes and resources to produce even better results for our kids and families in the future.

The school board should rely more on its own common sense and less on education industry consultants to recruit a new superintendent.  But if the current board needs professional help so be it.

However, we need to reject the notion expressed by some that successful recruitment should be measured by whether the community “opposes” or “supports” the superintendent’s actions and performance. Any time public support or opposition to a school superintendent becomes a political issue, by definition good school governance has been derailed.

Superintendents are educators serving as chief administrators we rely on to carry out clearly defined policy and measurable program objectives, established in a competent, orderly and transparent manner by the elected school board.  The superintendent has no authority or powers over programs and policy independent of those delegated by the school board.

As such, superintendents should be strong academic leaders within the schools, with a community-relations role that should never be politicized.   Thus, if the school board and superintendent are doing their jobs right, the public directs its support or opposition to the school board, not the superintendent.

An effective high-functioning school board does not shift political management to a superintendent.  Likewise, a superintendent who is a confident academic leader does not allow the integrity of the chief administrator’s office to be compromised by enmeshment in the political duties of the elected school board.

National studies show weak school boards and inexperienced superintendents too often confuse their respective roles under state law.  When that happens an unhealthy codependency can become institutionalized.

So we need a new superintendent who does not have a recurring need for remedial civics lessons about best practices, and respects proper boundaries between career senior staff and the school board in its oversight role on behalf of the community.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach