The Winston-Salem/Forsyth
County School Board isn’t yet sold on the idea of hiring the NC School Board
Association to manage its search for a new superintendent.

For a flat fee of less than $20,000plus expenses, the NC School Board
Association will manage the search process to help the Winston-Salem/Forsyth
County School Board select the district’s next superintendent.

Board members left a special meeting
on Wednesday evening wanting more information about other districts’ experiences
with the association’s handling of superintendent searches compared to services
from private search firms. But the pitch from Allison Schafer, the association’s
director of policy and legal counsel, provided a rough overview of what the
process is likely to look like.

Community members often want
transparency, but Schafer said finalists who are typically working as
superintendents or assistant superintendents in other districts rarely agree to
have their names released. Requiring them to go public before the final
selection is likely to chase away the top talent, she said. For that reason,
the association recommends that school boards hold community forums to get
public input on the qualities people want in a superintendent before whittling
down the field to a three or four finalists.

Board Chair Malishai Woodbury asked
Schafer what she thought about the idea of appointing an advisory committee.
Schafer discouraged against it, arguing that it can create an exclusionary
dynamic.

“You need to be careful — ‘Oh, these
are the people that are important; the other people aren’t as important,’” she
said. “You don’t want to say, ‘These groups we want to hear from, and these
groups we don’t.’ You want everybody to feel like they’re included. If you
start selecting people, that’s not what you want. You want everything to be as
open as possible.”

She also said it would be okay for
the school board to set up special focus groups to encourage input from
particular constituencies like business owners, faith leaders and school staff,
but due to state public meetings law all the events would have to be open to anyone
who wanted to attend.

Among the school board’s nine
members, only one — Elisabeth Motsinger — was serving the last time the
board undertook a search for a new superintendent, which took place in late
2012 and early 2013.

Five out of nine members, including
Woodbury, were elected to the board last year. The new board has emphasized that
they’re looking for a leader who is committed to equity, Schafer said.

Barbara Burke, who represents urban
District 1 alongside Woodbury, itemized a list of qualities that the board wants
to see in the next superintendent in an interview following the meeting.

“Definitely someone with experience
working as a superintendent in an urban school setting,” said Burke, a former
assistant principal. “Someone who has the data to show they’ve been able to
turn around a failing school or a failing school system. Someone with the
references that can verify that they’ve done the work. In summary, someone who
can move us in a forward direction.”

Ronda Mays, a social worker who
serves as president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, sounded
some of the same themes. She said she’d like to see a superintendent who “will
continue to listen to the educators and be involved with the community, and
make certain that our students’ needs are being held of highest importance as
far as resources that they need in the form of those tangible things, but also people
resources…. And someone who has experience working with schools to turn around as
far as the academic performance. That’s going to be important as well because we
have a number of schools that have been identified as low performing.”

Action4Equity, a community coalition
that filed a civil rights complaint prompting a federal investigation of the
district’s handling of health and safety concerns at Ashley Elementary, has
compiled a page-long list of recommendations for the search.

The coalition is calling on the
school board to weigh candidates’ experiencing working “as an administrator in
an urban system that has eliminated or reduced the achievement gap for black
and white students, particularly males.” Under the heading of “knowledge,” Action4Equity
seeks a superintendent who “understands how institutional racism has impacted
all the structures in this society and can articulate this understanding with
courage, and commitment to lead the district in this understanding.” And the coalition
wants the board to be on the lookout for a leader with “the emotional intelligence
and self-discipline to treat everyone with courtesy and respect.”

Schafer said a typical search takes six
months from the start of the process to the new superintendent’s first day on
the job. She said Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools could expect to receive
15 to 20 applicants, including some from out of state. With 32 years of experience,
she said she’s conducted 165 searches.

Schafer said it’s a matter of pride
that more than 50 percent of the applications received by the association over
the past four years have come from minorities and more than 30 percent have
come from women.

Board member Lida Calvert-Hayes said
she likes the fact that the NC School Board Association is in-state and wouldn’t
have to bill for exorbitant travel costs.

“I also like the diversity that she
had,” Calvert-Hayes said. “Considering who we are — ladies — I found
that to be very impressive,” she added, referencing the all-female board.

At the end of the meeting, board
members said they want to talk to their counterparts at Guilford County Schools
and Wake County Schools — two systems that hired the NC School Board
Association to lead searches after previously using private firms. And they
want to get pricing information from private firms.

“I think at the end of the day the
suggestion from a comparable district was to weigh your options,” Woodbury said.
“Listen to the profit side before you make a decision instead of hearing just
one perspective. I think all of us are very comfortable with the NC School
Board Association because we’re members; we’re used to them. I don’t think
deciding to hear from another search firm says anything but we’re trying to be prudent
about what we’re doing.”

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