“…I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral, I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical; I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical, About binomial theorem, I’m teeming with a lot o’ news, With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse. I’m very good at integral and differential calculus; I know the scientific names of beings animalculous: In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, I am the very model of a modern Major-General….”
– An excerpt from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major-General” from The Pirates of Penzance
This piece from Gilbert and Sullivan came to mind a few weeks ago when I attended the special called school board meeting to gather public input as to what qualities we should be looking for in the new school superintendent. The ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound was one of the few qualities not listed.
In a few months, a group of well scrubbed men and women will present themselves to the school board as superintendent candidates. Unless I am quite mistaken, they will all be foursquare for differentiated instruction, lifelong learning, parental and community involvement. closing the achievement gap, educational equity and no doubt motherhood and apple pie. They will espouse transparency akin to window glass and all manner of collaborative excellence.
How then to tell the wheat from the chaff? This is not an inconsequential choice. The health of the school system is an integral part of the parish’s economic competitiveness. We will never know the number of young professional families who either do not come here in the first place, or start polishing their resumes when their children reach school age and they cannot get their child into the Magnet or Lab school. How many companies cross us off their lists, or never put us there in the first place, because of the quality of the schools?
It’s not just a matter of a trained, or literate for that matter, workforce. People looking to start or move a business know their employees have families. They are not going to want to move to an area with poor schools. Attracting economic development is more than tax breaks. Good schools, infrastructure and competent, well run government all matter. Our parish is 0 for 3 in those areas. The school superintendent is one of the most critical jobs in our parish.
How then to find the man or woman to lead the system, and in no small part our parish, into the future? Rather than listing a series of platitudes, and receiving platitudes in return, I would like to pose specific questions as to their plans for problems facing the parish’s school system.
1. The school system has a problem attracting and retaining quality teachers. Please give a few specific ideas, besides pay, on how you plan to address this problem.
2. Both the quality and distribution of the long-term substitute pool is a continuing problem in the district. Please give us some proposals as to how you would increase the quality of the substitute teacher pool. As an accountability measure, would you be amenable to publicly listing the number of long term substitute teachers working in each school by the second week of each semester? Would you be amenable to requiring a passing score on the Praxis Exam as a prerequisite to being hired as a long-term substitute teacher?
3. There are any number of measures of academic excellence that the school system is either not pursuing at all, or is doing so haphazardly. Please explain how you would increase the number of National Merit Scholars, finalists and semi-finalists from both high schools in the parish. How do you propose to increase participation in the Duke University Talent Search from each school in the parish with students of the proper grade level?
4. Please share your thoughts on Advanced Placement vs. International Baccalaureate programs and Dual Credit courses. Which of these options would you prefer to be implemented in the parish’s high schools and why?
5. What are your thoughts on increasing access to, and screening for, the district’s gifted and talented programs?
I think asking these and other specific questions of each candidate will give the board and the public a clearer understanding of the candidates priorities and ideas.