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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Community offers input on FCPS superintendent search

The search consultants hired by Fairfax County Public Schools to recruit a new superintendent to replace Jack Dale have been gathering input from parents, educators, advocacy groups, and community organizations. The consultants will summarize comments from the meetings and present a report to the school board on Dec. 20, said Hank Gmtro, president of the Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA).

The board will gather additional community input in January, and HYA will use that information to screen candidates. About five to eight candidates will be identified by the consultants and presented to the school board. The board will select three finalists for interviews, which will take place in March

A committee made up of  staff and community members will be convened to interview the three finalists and report back to the board, Gmtro said. The top candidate selected by the board will then be subjected to screening and possibly a site visit. The final announcement will be made in May, and the new superintendent will start July 1.

HYA has extensive experience in recruiting superintendents. The company selected Dale, as well as the superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., and the Maryland State Board of Education.

The names of candidates will not be released to the public. “The board had a conversation about that,” Gmtro said. They agreed that if it was a public process, “many sitting superintendents might not take the step to apply,” because they would lose public trust from their own communities if they were not selected.

Gmtro said he’s heard about all sorts of  issues at the public meetings last week and “is getting the sense that people want someone different” from Dale. Participants at the sessions were asked to talk about what they like about FCPS, what they consider the main challenges the school system is facing, and what characteristics they would like to see in a new superintendent.

At a meeting Dec. 7 at the FCPS headquarters on Gatehouse Road in Merrrifield, Annandale resident Laurie Lindberg, a leader of the SLEEP advocacy group, urged the search committee to select someone who understands the benefits of having high school students start school later in the morning. Lindberg also said FCPS’s discipline policy is overly punitive and school officials need a better understanding of students’ brain and emotional development.

Melanie Kadlic Meren, a parent from Vienna, talked about the need for school gardens, green schools, and healthier school lunches. Lynn Gilmore, director of corporate citizenship for Northrop Grumman Information Systems, called for the new superintendent to support business partnerships and efforts to get limited-English-proficient and minority students more involved with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.

Andrea Bayer, a parent from Oakton, raised a number of concerns: FCPS schools don’t teach enough basic language arts skills like grammar, spelling, and vocabulary; too many parents turn to private tutors because their children aren’t learning enough in school; and there is too much of an emphasis on STEM.

Bayer complained about Dale’s “very clandestine and underhanded behavior in introducing online textbooks.” She said schools and parents should have been notified in advance, the math books can only be accessed with computers, not e-readers; the format is not user friendly; and the cost, nearly $7.8 million, could have been better spent elsewhere.

Kathleen Driscoll, chief of staff for Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (Hunter Mill) called for a summer school program and longer school year and said a superintendent needs to support the policies of the school board and Board of Supervisors.

Among other suggestions, participants at that meeting recommended the board hire a superintendent who  understands the need to provide extra resources for schools with large numbers of immigrants and poor students; emphasize learning, not just test scores; spend time in the schools; and really understand kids.   

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