What Makes a Super Superintendent, Far as the DISD Trustees Are Concerned? Here You Go.

At the beginning of the Dallas ISD trustees' long day's journey into night, I dialed up the back-and-forth over the superintendent search, as the board at long last debated what makes a super super. That video's archived here. And it was intriguing too, a peek into the thought processes of the board members as they struggle to retain the power they've found in the absence of a leader while also finding someone who might be able to give the district a much-needed shine.

You could see that at the very beginning of the meeting: Mike Morath, the newest trustee, led off by asking Gary Solomon of PROACT, the search firm, if they could change the wording of the item that makes the super the main person who reps the district out in the community. Seems the board wants to elevate the position of its president.

In a nutshell, is what the board is looking for, per the docs you will find below:

The candidate must possess exceptional leadership skills to continue to raise the academic bar for all students, continue to eliminate the achievement gap while serving as an ambassador for the district with the school community and the broader public. The board will offer a competitive compensation package.
The item originally said "primary ambassador." But Mike Morath, the newest trustee, did not like that. Said he: "We have had some conversations at the board level about the role of both the board president as opposed to the role of the superintendent, and based on those conversations I am not convinced that we need to explicitly state that the superintendent needs to be the primary ambassador for the district. I think that's a critical role within our management team, but I think there can be some shared responsibility between the board president and the superintendent." Which is how the new super became "an ambassador."

Bernadette Nutall had a more pointed concern about an item insisting the next super have "experience in bilingual education." Said the trustee: "Can you clarify that for me? Just experience in it, or are we looking for someone who speaks Spanish or what?"

"Would you like that to be a more robust statement?" Solomon asked. He said the "community" wanted the super to be bilingual, or be someone who "at the very least [has] a strong experience and a track record of success with [a] bilingual population."

"Can't it just be 'the understanding of cultures,'" Nutall asked. Morath reminded: A third of the district's kids enter the DISD unable to speak English. "How about multicultural education?" Nutall said.

"I still think there's a nuance, a difference there," said Morath. "Again, a third of our kids start in our program unable to speak English. They speak Hmong, they speak Nepali, a hell of a lot of 'em speak Spanish."

"You say it's preferred, but I think a person who understands can also do the job," said Nutall. "You have to have an understanding of all the differences in the district. We limit ourselves when you ...  You gotta just have an understanding of the differences in our society to work with all people."

"Does the term 'desirable' sound OK?" asked president Lew Blackburn.

"The way I read this is just says 'experience in bilingual education,'" said Edwin Flores. "A very different statement would be, 'Bilingual is preferred.'"

That went on for a while. Solomon tried to explain: "They want someone sensitive to the needs of Dallas." The discussion continued. Carla Ranger finally chimed in, saying out loud what Nutall would not: "For some people, this is code for 'a person who speaks Spanish.'"

Ranger also wondered where PROACT came up with the bullet point that says the new super must have "experience and success in developing relationships with the business community that benefit all residents and schools." She asked: "What does success mean there?"

Solomon said: "Able to build bridges." Which means ...?

Cowan piped in: "PROACT is going to be looking at hundreds, hopefully, of candidates, and we don't want to define them too strictly. It's up to the candidate for them to tell us what their success means so they can differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. I would encourage us not to get too detailed." Morath said, well, instead of "the business community," what about, say, "external partners"?

Solomon told the board: Look, this isn't a checklist. The next super doesn't have to be everything to everyone. This profile is merely "a stimulus for conversation and screening."

And now, back to Ranger, who wanted to make it a "definite" that "prior superintendent experience is preferred." Cowan said, look, shouldn't they "cast a wider net" and consider anyone out there who "has education experience on other levels"? Damn right, Flores said: "This is about finding the biggest pool possible. ... There are some very successful non-traditional superintendents out there."

In the end the board voted to approve the list you see below. And they did so without ever making the list public. That didn't sit well with Ranger. Of course it didn't. I received it this morning. And here you do.Disd Position Profile - Final

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky