Welcome to O-Pinion, the editorial board's online place for commentary and discussion. I'm associate editor Fannie Flono, your host today.
I'll be scooting back and forth much of the day listening in on public talks with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' superintendent candidates. If you can attend any of the sessions, please do. If you think you can't make a difference just consider what happened when Peter Gorman, who resigned last summer as CMS superintendent, was one of three finalists in 2006.
At the time, there was lots of concern about Gorman's ability to lead a large school system. He was superintendent of a 20,000 student California system, although he had worked in a large Florida system. My long-time colleague Mary Newsom, who is now at UNC Charlotte, attended a public session with the finalists and came away with these impressions that she wrote in an April 8, 2006 column:
"Peter Gorman: He hit all the right notes. He shook hands with and introduced himself to all nine parent panelists. Sure, it was by-the-book, but they liked it.
"He had done his homework. (They spent a week here last summer, his wife, Sue, told me.)
"He made a point, for instance, of saying his California school system has a problem with gangs. "You admit the problems you have, " he said. CMS and the city police department have in the past been criticized for underplaying gang problems, though to be fair, in recent years the head-in-sand stance has ended.
"He said he made 200 school visits a year. 'The size of the district cannot be an excuse,' he said. Every quarter he teams with a teacher to teach a class. 'I taught art; that didn't go well,' he admitted with a (spontaneous? well-rehearsed?) bit of self-mockery.
"He talked about teachers' need to feel supported. 'They need to have faith in the district office,' he said. Many CMS teachers now lack that faith. [Some people will no doubt say Gorman failed to make good on his teacher support talking point.]
"In sum: Gorman was the best public face of the three. His speaking style was focused, coherent and appeared sincere. He didn't lapse into jargon. He didn't dodge questions. He was smooth - but not slick."
Mary also shared her underwhelming impressions of the other two candidates. Of Terry Grier, who was Guilford County's superintendent at the time, she said: "He shook my hand and kept holding it. And holding. And holding. Reminded me of a salesman who rivets you in the eye while picking your pocket. Plus his remarks weren't well-focused or concise. Several parents said he hadn't answered their questions. I think they just got bored with listening before he rambled on to an answer."
Of Frances Haithcock, who was interim CMS superintendent at the time, she said: "She's been unfairly tagged with being 'status quo' in a system she joined only six years ago and has been improving from within ever since. But she doesn't present herself as well as he [Gorman] does. Her answers weren't as focused, her syntax less clear."
The rest of the public, and the school board members who will select the next schools' leader, heard the same thing that Mary did. Those impressions and feedback from the community mattered. Mary's conclusion was that "this is a job where you need to hire someone with both substance and style," and that Gorman had both.
Only one person, Tom Tate, is among the school board members who were on the board six years ago when Gorman was chosen. How this new group of board members will factor in public impressions and feedback is not clear. But they did set up these meetings in order to get that feedback. Let's take them at their word that they will use it. Show up and hear what the candidates have to say, then tell board members what you think.
Panel discussions this afternoon will be at three locations, where the candidates - Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash, CMS's Ann Clark and Washoe County (Nev.) Superintendent Heath Morrison - will rotate between the three: St. Peter's Episcopal parish hall, 115 W. Seventh St.; the Government Center chamber, 600 E. Fourth St.; and the auditorium at the main library, 310 N. Tryon St. Appearances will be from 1 to 2:15 p.m., 2:45 to 4 p.m. and 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Unfortunately, only one session is set when people who work will be more likely to attend. That session, with all three candidates together will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Northwest School of the Arts, 1415 Beatties Ford Road.
I hope to see you at one of these sessions.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
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