During a discussion over how the next Birmingham City School superintendent would be selected, the Birmingham Board of Education mulled over the idea of having an anonymous scoring rubric, a suggestion given to them by the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB).
“This is the most important job you have to do as a school board,” said Dr. Linda Ingram, “There is no job as important as selecting the next superintendent.”
Ingram, a consultant for the AASB, repeatedly stressed that point during her remarks to the Birmingham Board of Education at Thursday’s special called meeting in which she walked members through the state’s suggested selection process. Although the board is free to use any process they deem fit, April Williams, the board member who chairs the selection committee, said she is leaning toward implementing the AASB measures.
The names of the five finalists, who have been chosen and vetted by the AASB, have not yet been made available to the BBOE, according to Board President Wardine Alexander. The search has been ongoing since the board voted to oust Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan on September 22, 2016, after she had served just over a year on the job.
Several aspects of the effort to find a replacement superintendent were outlined during the meeting by Williams, drawing a contrast between the current search and the one which selected the former occupant of the post.
Perhaps most notably, the component of gathering community input was not included in the outlined process, unlike the previous search that ended with the hiring of Castlin-Gacutan. After Dr. Craig Witherspoon’s resignation on October 7, 2014, the board conducted a community survey the following month in an effort to gauge what qualities the public would like to see in the next superintendent.
According to the report released by the AASB, 1,017 people participated in that community survey.
Questions regarding the search process and how, if at all, the board’s four-member search committee’s selection process has changed, were directed to Alexander (who is not one of the four members of the committee). “Well, you can see, in general, finding a superintendent is a very important role for the board,” Alexander said to several reporters before walking into an executive session to discuss a legal settlement which was later approved. (A representative with the BOE said on Friday that settlement was a personnel matter unrelated to the superintendent or the current search process.)
“So there are components that are always the same. What we’re delighted with, in this particular process — we have included different variables and are weighting pieces of those rubrics and the process itself. So we’re encouraged by what our final results will be.”
Why has there been no community involvement such as survey or town hall meeting, as was the case in 2014? “You will see that as a component. Part of the timeline that [AASB] suggested to us was to take that individual out to the community, let them meet the community on the day of their interview. We’re also considering to have a series of questions or a survey that we can utilize from the community,” Alexander said.
During the meeting no action was taken regarding the search. The board did note a self-imposed deadline of April 11 to fine-tune the particulars. Several board members had questions regarding the alternative search AASB representatives were offering as “suggestions” to the board.
Board member Sherman Collins took issue with the anonymous scoring component the search committee is considering, calling it “confusing.” After the interview process, during which the BOE members would score the candidates’ performances based on a set of established criteria, their scores would be sent to an outside consultant who would assign each of the five candidates an identifier before returning the scores to the board members. This would mean that the BOE would not know which candidate scored highest.
“You’re going to interview all five candidates,” Williams explained. Not until the two top scorers were selected would the board members get the names.“We’re looking at the competencies, the attributes we’ve identified that have the greatest value for Birmingham City Schools,” Williams said, adding the goal will be to reduce emotional bias.
Collins objected to being “surprised” by the board’s eventual selection. “That decision will just be based on a rubric. … We’re just letting the rubric decide who those candidates are,” Collins said. “What’s the point of the interview?”
While the specifics of the selection process have yet to be determined, it was evident that there is still much work to be done before Tuesday’s board meeting, during which the five candidates will be presented to the board by the AASB. The BBOE still must finalize the questions that will be asked of the candidates and how much weight will be assigned to the five components of the scoring: the writing prompt, interview, presentation on first- and third-year goals, data analysis, and the overall board review.
“I’m not suggesting that we delay the process. I’m just not completely comfortable with the process that we’re considering,” said Cheri Gardner, a board member on the selection committee.
“You can come in Monday with any alternatives you want,” Williams replied.
Not all the members were opposed to the idea of anonymous scoring. The nature of the selection process could be finalized by the committee on Monday. “We want to ensure the objectivity of each of the nine board members,” Alexander said. “This process will allow us to look at them objectively and really look at their competencies. We will go back and talk with the committee. As you could see, there was some discussion among several of the board members. I want to be sure we have a consensus with the process.”
On whether or not Dr. Larry Contri, interim superintendent, was up for consideration, Alexander said, “I have not spoken to him about his interests, so I don’t even know if he applied for the position.”
The interview dates of the candidates will be released after next Tuesday’s meeting. Alexander said they are hopeful to have a new superintendent in place by June 1.