Aaron Regunberg: Funny Business in Providence Superintendent Search
Saturday, May 05, 2012
If you’re involved in public education in Providence, you’ve probably by this time heard the persistent rumor that the School Board has narrowed down its choice for the Providence Public School Department’s next superintendent. The general consensus (which I’m gleaning out of a rumor mill that seems to me to be too consistent to be false) is that the two finalists are current Interim Superintendent Susan Lusi and some corporate-background Broad personthat’s been working to expand charters in Philly.
So I guess makes him an expert on how to improve the learning of young people. As far as I can tell, Darden’s time in Philly was spent in large part pushing wide-scale school closure and privatization under the now ousted and arguably disgraced former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who presided over massive cheating scandals—currently 56 Philly schools are under state investigation for cheating on standardized tests—numerous acrimonious showdowns with the community over the district’s authoritarian leadership style, as well as gross fiscal mismanagement.
I have a few things to say about this.
First, to all the readers who are asking themselves why the Providence education community is trying to piece together the status of this huge decisionbased off of rumors and speculation, you’re bringing up an incredibly important point. Why is this process so secretive? Why isn’t the School Board being open and transparent about its deliberations?
Why aren’t the students, parents, and teachers who will be most affected by this choice allowed to have any say in it (and I mean a real say, now when it matters and not in unaccountable ways like easy-to-ignore surveys). Indeed, why are these stakeholders being actively kept in the dark? I wonder if it’s because the folks behind the curtain know that if it got out that the School Board was about to choose someone of the above description, they’d have a situation on their hands.
But I’m much more worried about the substance of this situation than the problematic process. I haven’t supported all of Superintendent Lusi’s decisions—not by a long shot—but the case for keeping her still seems strong in my opinion. First there’s the argument about turnover. Studies have shown that stability in leadership tenure is of critical importance in improving education systems. Without stability, you get what Providence has seen over the last decade: a string of short-term leaders, each cutting off his or her predecessor’s reforms before they had a chance to work in order to start his or her own reforms which will in turn be cut off after a couple of years by the next superintendent. Lusi seems to have earned the trust of a great deal of teachers and administrators in the district, and uprooting everything now is going to throw the system into even more disarray.
Second, there’s the fact that Lusi seems to actually want this job. Providence has been used as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things for too long, and everything I’ve read about this guy from Philly screams big ambitions. Why take the chance of hiring a superintendent who may very well only stay here until a better job in a larger city opens up when we have a local Superintendent with experience in Rhode Island and a real commitment to the job?
If the rumors I’ve been hearing are true, the School Board’s decision should be very easy. If there’s one school district in the country that’s in significantly worse shape than Providence right now, it’s Philadelphia—why in the world would we want to import that mess over here? There is good reason to fear that Darden will approach Providence’s schools with the same slash-and-burn attitude he brought to his private equity work and his tenure in Philly, and that’s one thing we don’t need right now. The choice is clear; for all our sakes, let’s pray the School Board gets it right.
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