Thursday, May 24, 2012 • 8:55 AM Comments ()

Superintendent Search: Let the Drama Begin

posted by Maureen Turner

No big surprise here: Danny Warwick, a long-time School Department employee and deputy superintendent since 2004, was named one of two finalists for the city’s school superintendent job.

The other finalist, named yesterday by a search committee, is Jesus Jara, superintendent in the Monroe County, Florida, school system. Like Warwick, Jara also has experience in the local school system; he was principal at SciTech before leaving the city in 2005. (See Pete Goonan’s report in the Republican here.)

Warwick has been widely regarded as having the inside track on the job—an assumption that’s been regarded as good news by some, and bad news by others. Warwick’s supporters point to his long career in the city’s schools (he started as a teacher in 1976, Goonan reports) and his commitment to the community—a trait that’s not been in great evidence among the Springfield’s most recent superintendents.

Outgoing superintendent Alan Ingram never moved his family to the city from his previous home in Oklahoma or bought a house here, despite the fact that, when hired, he received a $30,000 bonus to do just that. That, of course, was an issue of hot debate during last year’s mayoral election; in the midst of that turmoil, Ingram announced that he would not seek to renew his contract, which expires this summer. His predecessor, Joe Burke, also never put down roots in the city and spent much of his time here job-hunting in his former home state, Florida.

Warwick’s backers say his long-time service in the city schools means he wouldn’t have the learning curve a candidate from outside the city would and instead would be able to focus immediately on the system’s many challenges.

Of course, Warwick also has his critics—among them, former School Committee member Marj Hurst, who went after him in an April 1 column in African-American Point of View, a paper she publishes with her husband, Rick. In the column, Hurst criticizes the superintendent search process, noting (fairly enough) that it started rather late, given how long ago Ingram announced his plans to leave, and suggesting that outside candidates were tacitly discouraged from applying for the job because word was “all over town and the state” that the new hire would be an internal candidate.

But Hurst saves much of her ammo for Warwick— whom, rather cravenly, she never names, but whom anyone who’s been following the process can clearly tell is the subject of her attack. Hurst contends that not only does Warwick have the job sewn up but that “it’s also being said” that he’s already selected all his assistant superintendents “and not one is an African American! Not one! … [T]he ‘ole-boy’ patronage system will be coming back and it doesn’t include us!”

Hurst also takes a swing at Chris Collins, vice chair of the School Committee (again, she doesn’t call her target by name, referring to him only by his title), who, she writes, “just happens to be good friends with the in-house candidate” and is “allegedly calling all of the shots.”

In the end, the entire School Committee—whose members happen to include Hurst’s daughter in law, Denise Hurst—will pick the next superintendent; the committee also has the power to supplement the two finalists selected by the search committee with their own choices.

Hurst does raise a valid concern: will the School Department’s leadership, going forward, fairly reflect the student population, which is overwhelmingly black and Latino? But that point, alas, is muddied by her unsubstantiated accusations and overexcited use of exclamation points, and the sneaking suspicion that perhaps she’s got her own political agenda here.

Ultimately, whoever gets the position will take on a daunting job. Prior to the finalist announcement, the Rev. Talbert Swan II, president of the Springfield NAACP and a member of the search committee, told the Advocate what he’d like to see in the city’s next superintendent: “They need to be a competent administrator that puts the needs of students first. Someone who could hold their own in the political arena, in terms of dealing with the School Committee. Someone who has experience in an urban school district, both in the classroom and as an administrator. Someone who’s going to have a long- term commitment to the city of Springfield.”

The new super, Swan added, should have aggressive goals for increasing graduation rates and shrinking the achievement gap between white students and students of color and should be able to make real advances within the first three years.

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