By failing to hire a superintendent, Orleans school board puts politics above education

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The Orleans Parish School Board has been at loggerheads for two years, unable to select a new superintendent. For ideas on how to break the impasse, The Lens invited educators and advocates — including all members of the school board — to weigh in. We are publishing their thoughts in the next week.

The basic question: What does the board need to do to break the logjam and convince a top-notch educator to take charge as superintendent?

Mike Stenson
As an Orleans Parish parent who has continued to watch the search for a new superintendent for two years now, I can say that the lack of progress in finding a new quality leader is egregious.

A superintendent is the captain of our ship, and he or she has the power to steer the system and its schools in a direction that results in a higher level of success for our students in the classroom and in life. Without the captain, a ship is adrift. And so is our system right now.

Finding a new superintendent should be the number one priority of the board — as it should have been two years ago when they started the search process. Period. The pace at which the school board has moved is not just disappointing; it borders on negligence.

The school board members seem more concerned with their individual political agendas than focusing on students. A good superintendent is a crucial asset for getting better schools than the Orleans Parish educational system has provided students to date. Taking more than a year to simply select a firm to do the recruiting for a new leader is evidence that board members are putting their own political futures ahead of the futures of our students.

All of the board members have their own specific requirements that they believe the superintendent needs to meet. And while I would never want this board to rush the process and hire someone who is not qualified, the requirements that individual board members are holding to and refusing to bend on have nothing to do with quality.

The perfect superintendent does not necessarily need to have a Ph.D. or be from the area. He or she does not even need to have been a superintendent before. We need a superintendent who can lead our schools into the future.

With each board member looking for specific and conflicting qualities, we’ve sentenced our system — and most importantly, our children — to a perpetual search for a superintendent who either doesn’t exist or doesn’t match the qualities required of a leader to succeed within our system. Board members must put aside their petty differences, for once, and come together to find someone qualified to lead our schools.

As of now, 63 individuals have applied for the position. Of these, seven were granted an interview and three were granted a second interview. Because of the board’s inability to function as a group of adults who put students first, disagreement prevailed and no one was selected.

This board is dysfunctional and votes only according to political alliances. That’s evident at nearly every board meeting, nearly every time a vote is called. Petty arguing and bickering rule, resulting in wasted hours that could have been used discussing how to improve student achievement and how to take our schools to the next level. Instead, the board spends hours talking about things that don’t matter, only to consistently arrive at a voting outcome that could have been predicted in advance of the discussion.

Regardless of whether you support the path our schools are on, I believe we can all agree that this board is doing no service whatsoever for our students. So while we parents get our kids up each day, get them dressed, kiss them goodbye, and send them off to schools that are working hard to serve them, these elected officials offer no grand vision to make sure the schools truly achieve their only legitimate goal: providing our kids with a better education than we got in this city.

Generations of students were failed by this system. And, while the school board sits and bickers about things that don’t matter, another generation of students is at risk — not just of losing out on a great education but of not getting the skills they need to be productive members of society, to participate in the greater social good, or to become financially self-sufficient and provide for themselves and their families.

We can complain about how little we got from our schooling, but we’re allowing our kids to get exactly the same by not holding this school board accountable for its failure to function, serve and lead. Perhaps the only possible way the Orleans Parish School Board will be able to select a superintendent is to replace each and every current board member with people that who willing to do their jobs. We, as parents and as residents of Orleans Parish, must demand action by the board, and if they can’t or won’t act, then we need to replace them. Our children deserve no less.

Mike Stenson, now retired from a career in the military, is a member of Stand for Children Louisiana, a group that advocates for strengthened public schools. He and his wife, Amanda, educated both their sons in New Orleans schools.

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