Welcome change: Wilkinsburg schools were due for a new leader

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The Wilkinsburg school board made the right call on Friday when it decided to fire superintendent Lee McFerren.

Although he was on the job for only nine months, Mr. McFerren already has made an impact — unfortunately, not in a good way.

He was fresh in the position in July when he scheduled an extravagant staff retreat at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County, where administrators ate expensive meals, received custom-made T-shirts and were given $100 worth of gift cards for a restaurant, book store, car wash and movie tickets. The idea was to improve morale and motivate staff members to improve student performance, but it seems both the attitude of employees and the test scores and attendance rates of students are worse than before.

The district’s truancy rate skyrocketed when a key position was left vacant, and a rising number of employees have reported the workplace is strained and stressful. Recently, Mr. McFerren jeopardized a significant amount of the district’s federal funding when he ignored an email from the state education secretary, sent after numerous other attempts to get the district to submit a required report were unsuccessful.

Before the board fired two Louisiana educators who were hired by his predecessor and paid more than $500,000 as consultants, Mr. McFerren stood behind them despite little to show for their work. He allowed a certified art teacher to teach chemistry and a physical education teacher to provide instruction in high school French.

Those were just some of the missteps and bad judgment calls that Mr. McFerren made.

The board’s new majority, elected after his hiring, has had enough. They’re willing to cut their losses even though the terms of Mr. McFerren’s three-year contract mean the district must pay him $115,000 in severance. The money could have been better spent, but the district’s taxpayers and students deserve better than Mr. McFerren has delivered.

The board now has a far more important decision to make. Members must find a new superintendent willing to lead the troubled district.

Board President Ed Donovan described the ideal candidate as a leader with “unimpeachable credentials” who can “weed out malfeasance and mismanagement,” “build a stable foundation” and “inspire the entire district.”

As the district learned during Mr. McFerren’s brief tenure, putting the right person at the top is critical.

Hiring a professional recruiting firm won’t be cheap, but the district can use the help and should employ one to conduct a thorough search for a strong leader for Wilkinsburg schools.

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