Ann Arbor school board receives public input for narrowing down superintendent pool
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com file photo
The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education is preparing to sift through applications to find the district's next superintendent.
To prepare, the board took extra measures—compared with its previous search—to seek public opinion on qualities and characteristics the community would like to see in a new leader by scheduling four public forums on the topic.
This is the Ann Arbor schools' fourth superintendent search since 2002. Superintendent Patricia Green submitted a letter of resignation to the board on April 11. She will retire effective July 9 after 43 years in public education.
Green's tenure in Ann Arbor was contentious at times, with the community criticizing her $245,000 salary; her Maryland second residence; and what some saw as her lack of approachability, accessibility and transparency. Overall, the public has appeared largely unsatisfied with her leadership, leading to the board wanting additional feedback from community members going into this next search.
Pioneer High School math teacher Michele Macke said at one of Wednesday's public meetings that Green started off at a disadvantage when she was hired because of her salary, and she also had tough shoes to fill.
"It'd be hard to follow (former superintendent) Todd Roberts," Macke said. Roberts left in 2010 to accept a job in North Carolina. " He was well liked, he went into the buildings, people knew him and felt like he was part of the community. I've never got the sense that the current superintendent, that people saw her as having a stake in the community."
In addition to the four public forums, the school board collected data and comments via an online survey. President Deb Mexicotte said nearly 50 pages of comments have come back to the board through that survey.
Macke asked Wednesday whether board members did site visits to candidates' districts during the last superintendent search, because she felt that was a critical piece that would allow the board to speak with employees at the various schools to learn about staff morale and how active the superintendent hopeful was in his or her buildings.
Mexicotte said the board seriously debated the benefits of site visits during the previous search. Some trustees felt there was value in the visits, while others felt strongly that the expense outweighed the benefits, she said. Trustee Glenn Nelson told Macke it is good to hear from the community their thoughts on this topic because it helps the board know what its constituents deem appropriate and necessary.
The board actually did not end up making the site visits last search because of a snow storm, Mexicotte explained. Trustees got as far as the Detroit Metro Airport when their flights were canceled due to weather. Mexicotte said the rebooking fees and extra expense of canceling the visits and rescheduling caused the board not to go.
Trustees did follow up with all of the people they were scheduled to meet at the candidates' school districts, however, she said.
Bryant Elementary School teacher Jeanne Kitzman, who is retiring from the district after 23 years, asked board members Wednesday about the idea of not having a superintendent.
"We've got a nice, strong cabinet right now. Do we really need a superintendent?" she asked.
Mexicotte said by law, school districts in the state of Michigan must have a superintendent. Macke said a superintendent is somewhat of a figurehead, but it is an important and powerful position, in that the superintendent is the public spokesperson "and can get the community to back the schools and support the schools."
Kitzman and Macke encouraged the board to ask other questions of candidates about their plans and goals to avoid another situation where the district is seeking a new superintendent within 2 to 4 years. Green is the fifth leader Ann Arbor has had in a little more than a decade.
Danielle Arndt | AnnArbor.com
"Ann Arbor is a town full of experts who are going to nitpick any person to death," she said.
She encouraged the board to seriously consider internal candidates and candidates with similar experiences of working in a university town, the latter of which the board did do when it was hiring Green.
Kitzman added that, in a way, Ann Arbor is run by special interest groups. She said all one had to do was attend a school board meeting during budget cuts to see how various groups rallied for their programs and how the loudest groups often won.
She said that in itself is a challenge for any leader to manage. But Macke said students and parents always are going to support the programs they or their children are involved in, no matter what. Macke said she believes this exists in other districts outside of Ann Arbor, too.
Kitzman emphasized hiring an in-state superintendent or someone with ties to the state.
"They need to have a heart with Michigan to stick it out for the really hard times," she said, adding she believes the current state governor does not support public education and the legislative reforms being explored are going to drastically change the face of public schools here. She said the next superintendent is going to have to deal with redistricting, closing elementary buildings, continued decreased funding, more teacher layoffs and probably many more unforeseen challenges.
Experience in closing the achievement and discipline gaps between black, Hispanic, low-income and special needs student populations and their Caucasian counterparts is not as important of a superintendent quality to the public, Macke said, adding the board needs to get rid of this as a focal point when hiring someone.
But Mexicotte said it is important to the board — although, based on the feedback trustees have received from the community, perhaps it should not be as great of a driving force in this superintendent search as it was last time, she said.
The board hopes to have a new leader in place in time for the start of the 2013-14 academic year this fall.
A representative from Ray & Associates, the consulting firm AAPS hired to aid in the search, is expected to be in Ann Arbor June 26 to meet with the school board in executive session to discuss the applications that make it past the initial screening. Following the 2 p.m. executive session meeting, the board will convene a regular meeting, beginning at 7 p.m., at which the board will announce the semifinalists for the position.
The board is planning to schedule visits to the district and onsite interviews with each of the semifinalists the week of July 7, with finalists being announced at the end of the week and finalists' interviews taking place the week of July 14.