Search process set to begin for Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent
September 14, 2015 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh schools Superintendent Linda Lane will leave her post in June.
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools is expected to meet privately this week for its first group discussion about filling the superintendency, which Linda Lane announced she will leave in June.
Since Mrs. Lane announced her upcoming departure more than a week ago, there has been no shortage of opinions as to what should happen next.
Point Breeze parent Pamela Harbin started a Facebook page called “#OurSchoolsOur Superintendent” to gather comments, and so far more than 1,100 people have joined the page, some of them giving input on who should be involved and what type of candidate is needed.
Leaders of The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation, A+ Schools and Allies for Children, as well as Mayor Bill Peduto, are among those who have called for a national search.
Some want an approach similar to “Talent City,” which was used by Mr. Peduto for hiring for top jobs in his administration. Applicants were screened by selection committees made up of various professionals and city government veterans, with the names of finalists sent to the mayor and his administration.
However, Great Public Schools-Pittsburgh last week issued a news release favoring keeping the screening in the hands of the elected school board. “School board members are democratically elected specifically to perform the function of screening for, interviewing and ultimately hiring a superintendent,” the news release stated.
It asked that the board “conduct its search in a way that solicits, synthesizes and prioritizes input from parents, students, teachers, community members and leaders.”
GPS members include ACTION United, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, One Pittsburgh, Yinzercation, SEIU Healthcare PA, SEIU 32BJ and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
In his post on the #OurSchoolsOurSuperintendent page, Patrick Dowd, former school board member, former city council member and current executive director of Allies for Children, said the board should set clear criteria and then set up a screening committee made of “a credible group of citizens” who would present a group of candidates meeting the criteria to the board for interviews.
Board member Sherry Hazuda, who joined the board in 2007 and will complete her term in December, said she’s not opposed to input but doesn’t favor a committee with “a whole bunch of people representing different organizations.”
She said, “Everybody has an opinion. Ultimately, one of the primary responsibilities of the board is to hire the superintendent. It has to be somebody they can work with.”
Board member Carolyn Klug, who joined the board two years ago, said the board needs to listen to everybody. “I’d like to hear from some of the kids, too. What do they think makes a great leader?”
But Ms. Klug views the board as the screening committee. “I certainly want people’s input ... but I think it’s our job to do the screening and make sure we pick a winner.”
Board member Sylvia Wilson said “loads of people” are offering help, but “we need to sit down and see how we move forward.”
In addition to the process, board members also must decide on the qualities they’re seeking in a new superintendent.
Board member Regina Holley said, “For me, it’s really important to communicate with the community and hear their voice about what type of leader they’d like to see. That will guide my vote.”
The board that will meet this week is different from the one that has to carry out the process. Three members — Mark Brentley Sr., Bill Isler and Ms. Hazuda — did not seek re-election and will be replaced by new members in December.
Mr. Isler, who has served on the board for 16 years, doesn’t think the board should wait to get started. “I think you have to commit to an open, national search, transparency. Those things you have to commit to now. That’s not about a new board. That’s every board,” he said.
The board typically conducts a national search, although it made an exception when it named Linda Lane superintendent, effective January 2011. At the time, Mark Roosevelt was leaving after five years at the helm, and Mrs. Lane had come from Iowa to serve as deputy superintendent in 2007 and was deeply involved in setting the district’s direction.
“We knew that Linda Lane was providing tremendous educational leadership in the district already,” Mr. Isler said.
A national search still could yield a local candidate, including one from within. It’s too early to tell whether any of the district employees who already hold a letter of eligibility for superintendent — or any of local superintendents who came from the district — will compete for the job.
Other than the appointment of Mrs. Lane and not counting interim superintendents, the five most recent searches were national, four of which resulted in hiring a superintendent from outside the district.
The exception is the promotion of Louise Brennen, a 42-year veteran of the district, from deputy superintendent in 1992. She retired in 1997. Some who favored an outside candidate from Virginia booed when the decision was made and picketed board headquarters on the day of the vote.
Outsiders who were hired include Richard Wallace, from Fitchburg, Mass.,who served from 1980 to 1992; Dale Frederick, from Warren, Ohio, who served from 1997 to 1999; John Thompson from Tulsa, Okla, who served from 2000 to 2005; and Mark Roosevelt, who served from 2005 to 2010.
Usually, the board hired a consultant for the search. Sometimes, the board announced a list of finalists, and, when Mrs. Brennen was hired, the finalists appeared at a public forum.
The board also has tried a secretive approach, such as in the search that yielded Mr. Thompson in which his name and that of another finalist managed to surface anyway shortly before the vote.
On occasion, the board has had a citizens search committee, although it hasn’t always listened to its advice, as in the hiring of Mrs. Brennen and Mr. Frederick.
In the search which resulted in Mr. Roosevelt’s hiring from among four named finalists, the board relied on Mr. Wallace and the late former interim superintendent Helen Faison to conduct the search, and then the board interviewed recommended candidates.
Mr. Brentley, who has been on the board for 16 years, said the new search should be the “complete opposite of the process used when we selected Mark Roosevelt. It should be clear, open, honest, a real national search. It was not a real national search.”
Mr. Brentley, who would like to see Mrs. Lane move up her departure date, said Pittsburgh has “hidden factors,” saying, “Corporate Pittsburgh wants to have a say so. Foundations want influence. Other elected officials want to have influence, and so a nonpaid, volunteer board has to begin to juggle.”
For some board members, this will be their first superintendent search. Board member Terry Kennedy, who joined the board two years ago, said she will be looking to learn from board members who have been through this before.
Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.
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