Calls for New Search
Rejects Finalist's "rehearsed naiveté"
This one has all the fixin's.
I did a little digging into the public record of the finalists for superintendent in Jefferson County this afternoon. Getting caught up a little. Vetting-lite.
In the meantime, another group has joined the NAACP in calling for a fresh search. And this group is actually an arm of city government, somehow.
Then comes the Courier.
The Courier-Journal opposed Berman's non-renewal from the start. (KSN&C - not so much. ...still ticked off by some misinformation we got from him one day.)
If I get this right, C-J thinks the finalists' ideas on the student assignment plan are insufficient following Sheldon Berman whose plan was "imperfect...well-intentioned and was firmly committed to diversity." ...which is pretty much what one might say about the finalists. Faint praise for Berman? In any case, the record casts some doubt.
I like C-J's strong commitment to a diverse school system. And C-J is correct to be concerned that there are folks who would like to resegregate along some line or another. Public school ought to be a place where all kids get to play.
With regard to the Meredith case, it has seemed pretty clear that the JCPS Board would be held to a high level of scrutiny in C-J's court of public opinion. So when Superman did not appear among the finalists, well....
This from the Courier-Journal
Editorial: Board fails to find sound candidate;
search must resume
The debacle that began one chilly night last November, when the Jefferson County Board of Education narrowly voted not to renew Superintendent Sheldon Berman's contract, has come to a crisis point with the selection of two woefully inadequate finalists to replace him.
This outcome should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this dysfunctional, divided board at work. But the possible consequence — appointment of a candidate who cannot even comment effectively about the most significant issue facing our schools, the student assignment plan — is unacceptable. Selecting a superintendent at this moment in history — when the JCPS assignment plan is under assault and when some of its schools have been labeled “failures” by the state — is the biggest choice to face Louisville in a long time. To get this wrong could mean that our children, and all the rest of us, will pay a terrible price.
Stakes are high
Why are the stakes so high? To begin with, the desegregation of local schools has been perhaps the most difficult and important challenge this community has faced in the past 60 years. Some people literally bled to effect change; opponents of desegregation rioted in the streets, but, in time, the student assignment plan became accepted, even popular, with most local parents and pupils.
Indeed, surveys have consistently shown that the public schools here — which attract an amazing 80 percent of eligible families — are highly regarded in part because people understand the critical importance of diversity to create high achievers and to make our children competitive in a global economy. And the assignment plan is vital in a city like Louisville, which has one of the most segregated housing patterns in the nation and a sordid history of racial discrimination and inequity.
A few years ago, Justice Stephen Breyer characterized the case that overturned Louisville's race-based assignment plan (written by the conservative point man Chief Justice John Roberts) as the worst thing he had seen come through the Court in his tenure. Sadly, this is now the law of the land, and ways must be found to continue to achieve the goals without using race as the basis for assignment.
Dr. Berman's plan, while imperfect, was well-intentioned and was firmly committed to diversity. A national expert in school integration is on contract with the district to propose ways to make the assignment plan more effective.
Plan in jeopardy
But make no mistake about it: There are forces at work that want to jettison the plan entirely and revert to a neighborhood-school assignment scheme. In a city like Louisville, the result would be an unacceptable pattern of re-segregated schools. Anyone who argues otherwise, or denies it, is dishonest and cruel.
After Dr. Berman was fired last fall, the board went to work on finding a replacement, and immediately began stubbing its toe. The proceedings were secretive from the start; the names of serious candidates weren't released, and the board never effectively communicated to the people of this community what it was looking for in a new leader.
Even the search firm hired to screen candidates seemed unaware of some of the deep divisions and problems that existed in the system and between the board and the superintendent.
The two finalists ultimately chosen — Christine Johns, who heads a 30,000-student district in a mostly white suburb of Detroit, and Donna Hargens, deputy and former acting chief of the schools in Raleigh, N.C. — came to town last week and met with the public, the school board and other community representatives.
The finalists demonstrated a kind of rehearsed naiveté about the district and the issues it faces. In meetings with this newspaper's editorial board (which you can watch at courier-journal.com/opinion), they proved to be either ignorant or deceitful about their knowledge of the student assignment plan that they would be expected to implement. There was a Stepford quality about their responses to questions about what they thought a plan should contain.
Dr. Hargens, in particular, tap-danced around such critical topics as commitment to desegregation, neighborhood schools and the history of the district. No person in a position to take on such an important job could honestly come to town as a finalist and have so few opinions. Or have so little concrete to say.
However, both candidates showed a remarkable lack of commitment to lead rather than to merely implement the policies of this dysfunctional school board. This district needs a visionary and dynamic leader, not a disingenuous yes-person.
Reopen the search
The board does not have a good choice to make between the two, and the search should be reopened, but this time in a much more transparent, straightforward manner.
It's time for the community to stand together to deliver this message. In earlier years, when challenges faced our public schools' assignment plans, strong and vigorous support from the business community was vital. But where are business leaders now? The silence is deafening. And where are religious and civic leaders of good conscience? Mayor Fischer needs to take a stronger stand in the interest of the entire city. The NAACP has been speaking out vigorously, and has taken principled stands throughout the Berman debacle and again last week. But what of other civil rights leaders?
Where are their voices? Where are yours?
On Tuesday, the school board is going to make its plans for the next step in the selection process. This crisis has reached a boiling point, and those who remain silent will share the blame for what could result from a disastrous decision about JCPS leadership.
Call your elected board member, or send him or her an email. Show up Tuesday at the school board to protest its continued secrecy and lack of responsiveness.
Now's the time. It may not come again for a long while.