As Birmingham City Schools searches for its next superintendent, the school board wants the community heavily involved in the process, BBOE President Randall Woodfin said Monday afternoon.
The BBOE has released a survey that asks what leadership qualities the next superintendent should possess. Woodfin hopes members of the community — teachers, parents, concerned citizens and business leaders — will take a moment to complete the survey.
“We think it is important that we get input and information from the community stakeholders and get a feel for their wants and needs,” said Woodfin of the survey that began with the board. “But the meat of the survey is rooted in what leadership qualities and characteristics the people are looking for in the next superintendent.”
The online survey will be available until Nov. 16, and is open to anyone who wishes to take a couple of minutes to fill it out. After the survey closes, Woodfin explained, the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) will collect the data and analyze the findings.
Besides the survey, the community-based search process will include open forums, which are expected to be held on Nov. 18 and 19 at several Birmingham schools.
“As currently planned, community meetings will be held at three high schools on November 18th, simultaneously, and then at the remaining three schools on the 19th,” according to a statement released by the BBOE. “Please note, participants can attend any meeting of their choosing, but we are encouraging participants to follow the suggested meeting site in order to balance attendance among locations.”
When all the information from the survey and community forums is handed over to the AASB, “They are going to put all the information together from the town hall meetings and the survey and give it back to us and say, ‘Here is what the community had to say and what they are looking for in the next superintendent,’” Woodfin said.
He characterized the search to replace outgoing Superintendent Craig Witherspoon as “the most important decision we have to make.” He noted that it is not just the school board’s decision to make, but Birmingham’s as a whole.
Laura Gallitz, a member of the Avondale Elementary Parent Teacher Association, said that she has great respect for anyone who is willing to step into the office of Birmingham superintendent. “It’s been an uphill battle,” she said. The system has seen seven superintendents in the last 20 years.
“A great superintendent will [seek] to get information and input from teachers and principals, but not unnecessarily burden the instructors with reporting duties,” Gallitz said. “I hear from teachers and our principal that the daily paperwork required is cumbersome and interferes with instructional time. Hopefully, a good administrator will know how to balance this.
“A perfect human does not exist,” she added, but she remains optimistic that the right person for the job is out there — it’s just a matter of making the right choice.
“In my opinion, a new superintendent must not undo any of the tough financial decisions that have been made. We can’t come under state control or accreditation scrutiny again. I responded to the survey that growing district enrollment is one of the top priorities of a new leader, and I believe this wholeheartedly. I want every family in Birmingham to want to send their children to their neighborhood schools — and yes, I’ll be the one to say it — including white families like mine,” Gallitz said.
Witherspoon is expected to remain in office until Dec. 31. While Gallitz believes that having an interim superintendent would be bad for the ailing school system, Woodfin says it is unlikely that a permanent replacement will be found by the end of the year.
“We have to treat this like a campaign,” Woodfin explained, referring to the aggressive approach that the school board must take when engaging the community. “You can send questions in print all day long, but there are conversations that we must have in person to really get a feel for what people are looking for.”
On Oct. 21, the BBOE sent a query to various firms who will be tasked with finding potential candidates for the position of superintendent. Woodfin hopes that the information collected from the survey and the public forums will be bundled together and presented by early December to the firm eventually chosen by the board.
Laura Kate Whitney, who has a child enrolled in Birmingham City Schools, said that Witherspoon’s replacement needs to have an understanding of Birmingham’s turbulent history while being able to look forward to the future.
“This person should be a proven leader, equipped with significant levels of humility, business acumen and grit. We need a leader who understands the significant history of Birmingham, but has the ability to face forward in terms of politics, community relations and administrative strategy,” Whitney said.
“Ideally, Birmingham will be able to recruit leading innovators in the field of education,” she continued. “But we should also open the search to other business sectors outside of academia, sparing no opportunity to find the most capable, most prolific candidate to lead our city school system.”
The question of whether or not the superintendent will be chosen from within the school system or from outside the state remains unclear. As Woodfin said, “This is a decision we must all make together.”
The survey is available online via the Birmingham City School’s website or directly accessible at surveymonkey.com/s/BhamSearch2014.