Tuesday, Jan. 31, marks the last day candidates can apply for the Santa Clara County Superintendent position. Today also marks my 150th column for San Jose Inside. It has been a bittersweet experience to write these posts for these last three years. I wish to thank Dan Pulcrano for the opportunity he has given me, an elected member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education Board of Trustees, to be heard on a variety of public education issues.
It is my hope that through these electronic writings I have stimulated the conversation about what many people consider the most important and controversial topic of our day. My goal has always been to increase public discourse relative to policy, budget, and reform issues in education here in Silicon Valley.
Dr. Weis, the current SCCOE Superintendent, retires on June 30, 2012. The SCCOE School Board will be conducting interviews in February with the top 5-6 candidates from across the state and country that have submitted applications. The number will be whittled down with the support of the Ray and Associates executive search firm from the 40-plus expected to complete the application process.
By March, the board will announce their selected candidate, enter into a contract for employment, and pave the way for a smooth transition for the 1,800 SCCOE employees, the labor unions (CTA and SEIU), the 31 school districts, and more than 20,000 students directly served by the office in a typical year. The foundation for building on the public school and SCCOE successes of the last four years is in place, yet so much strategic thinking and planning must be done to connect the dots, which have been waiting to be connected for improved educational results for decades.
The selected superintendent must build on the good work done by Dr. Weis and his predecessors. The newly appointed superintendent must see himself/herself as a powerful game-changer for how public education can navigate itself through a thicket of critical issues that include: funding, equitable distribution of public dollars, charter school competition/cooperation, ensuring that 100 percent of all Silicon Valley students graduate with a high school diploma prepared for entrance into a career or college, and so much more.
The SCCOE board is prepared to hire an individual who has the knowledge and skills to be a Jim Harbaugh-like game-changer for all students living in Silicon Valley. The status quo is not good enough and appropriate change must occur in public education. Our results are tragically abysmal—only 50 percent of 4th grade students attending public schools in San Jose score at the grade level for state assessments in reading and math. We can and must do better.
Having said that, the California Department of Education is prepared to deny a request by the SCCOE Board of Education for a waiver from the requirement that whoever is hired must have an Administrative Service Credential from the state. At this point the SCCOE Board does not know whether we will want to hire someone without the requisite credential, but the board would like to have that flexibility, if needed. Some game-changer candidates can surely come from the military, private sector, universities or other government positions.
The State Board of Education will vote on the SCCOE board’s waiver request in March. Perhaps by the time of that decision, the SCCOE board will have the final candidate vetted and recommended. If it turns out to be someone without the proper credential, the name of the person can be made public and then the state board can decide best on the curriculum vitae of the recommended candidate. How sad it would be if the state would deny the county the right to hire the person who seven elected trustees believe is the leader this region—one of the most innovative and wealthy in the world—needs in these changing times.
Emmett D. Carson, CEO and president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, wrote in a recent Op-Ed in the Mercury News, “In seeking a new county schools chief, I agree with the president of the SCC’s school board that it is time to look beyond traditional candidates for a new leader… The transformative changes and challenges in our educational system require a transformative leader, someone who can envision change, work across sectors and think outside what we have to create what we need. Such a person is unlikely to come from within the current system.”
As president of the SCCOE Board of Education, it is inexplicable to me why the state’s Department of Education (DOE) would want to deny the county the opportunity to hire the transformative leader Carson urges us to find. Don’t our children and teachers deserve the very best leader possible?
The state board will have an opportunity to approve our request even though the DOE recommended denial, if the request is needed. In fact, the state board voted unanimously in January to approve a Rocketship Charter School in San Francisco on appeal, even though the DOE recommended denial.