At Last Night's Superintendent Search Town Hall, Way More Questions Than Answers

Here's what we know about the Dallas Independent School District's search for a new superintendent to replace Michael Hinojosa: nothing. Here are the criteria the trustees have agreed on for what they'd like to see in a new superintendent: none yet.

Now that I've summarized the salient points of last night's town hall meeting hosted by DISD trustee Dr. Edwin Flores for you, let's break it down by the numbers: At the height of the town hall at Midway Hills Christian Church, there were 20 people present, including three guys standing behind news cameras, several members of DISD's executive team, 11 parents and one admirably well-behaved little boy (who I hope was later rewarded with ice cream or a pony or something). "I wish there were 100 parents here," one DISD mom, Susie McMinn, said afterward. "These forums are really important."

The purpose of the evening, as we told you yesterday, was for Flores to begin asking DISD parents what they'd like to see in a superintendent. Turns out they had just as many questions for him: about how the trustees and the board are going to undertake the search, where they'll be looking, whether they prefer a "traditional" or "non-traditional" candidate, even how they're going to decide which search firm to hire. The whole thing felt a bit like a late-night drive with a car full of stoners, trying to pick between Whataburger and In-N-Out: "Where do you wanna go?" "I dunno, where do you wanna go?" And so on.

But although Flores didn't have any answers, and emphasized that we're still very early on in this process, he still tried to reassure the parents: "I think we need to get the best superintendent possible, traditional or non-traditional," he told them. "Period."

That would be nice. No disagreements there. But the parents were more interested in finding out what the board's standards are going to be, their "profile" for an ideal candidate, and asking repeatedly for more transparency in the process. "Will the board publish set criteria [for a candidate]?" one father asked.

"I'm not sure if we'll set out specifics in writing," Flores replied.

"If you don't have any criteria ..." his questioner began again, clearly a tad frustrated. "I'm just trying to understand, how is this going to work?"

"There's a job description for superintendents," Flores replied. "We'll go by that."

"So you're not going to develop a profile?" another woman asked.

"We will," Flores assured her. "If we'll publish it, put it out there, that's the real question." At which point three parents immediately let him know they would very much like the board to do just that. "Working with the public seems like your most important first step," McMinn told him.

Budget cuts were also very much on the minds of everyone in the room (and they'll be massive -- $100 million over the next two years). "It is what it is, folks," Flores said. "We're going to have to deal with it, and it's not going to be fun."

For his part, Flores said he'd like to see "somebody who will help in designing schools for this generation. We still run schools the way we did six generations ago." To him, that means incorporating, "texting, the Facebook, Skype" -- all the tools kids are learning to work with in their off-hours. "It's just a different way of learning," he said. "It's project-based, and it's how we work every day. Why aren't we teaching our kids how to do that?"

DISD will select a search firm, possibly as early as tonight's called meeting, and work with them to develop a profile of an ideal candidate, Flores said. In November, they'll begin "advertising the position, hunting people down," as he put it. In January, they'll start narrowing the search, and conduct interviews in February and March. By March or April, they hope to be very close to making a final choice.

Flores said afterward that he'll be holding several more town halls, and he hopes other trustees will do the same. He'll do the next one, he said, in a predominantly Spanish-speaking school. He encourages anyone who wants to talk about the process to call his office at the district and make an appointment to share their views. "That way, we can have a thorough discussion," he said.

But ultimately, he said, despite parents' request for more transparency, this is the trustees' choice to make. "I wrote and passed the district transparency policy," he told me. "Nobody believes in transparency more than me." Community input is valuable, he said. "But morally and legally, this is our job. Nobody else is responsible."

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