An Open Letter to the Board of Ed Regarding Job Description for Superintendent Search

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At the last Board of Education meeting, the issue of why the job description on the district site hasn't been updated to be more specific to present needs was addressed somewhat by Eileen Frowenfeld, who said that the 2006 description listed in the Star-Ledger ad and online was something that the Board could interpret as the process goes on--however, when the search was originally discussed by the Board, they said they would update the description before they did anything else. That has not been their decision as they move forward. 

This week, at the meeting tomorrow night at Borough Hall, there will be a vote that will cement the wording of the job description. Vocal residents in the district have been writing letters to the Board requesting that the wording be altered from the generic 2006 derscription in order to make "academic excellence" a priority for the new Superintendent, as well as a proved commitment to and ability with financial and administrative matters. After all, isn't that what a school district is responsible for--the education of our children? Tracy Miller thinks so--here is her letter in toto.

August 26, 2011

To Members of the Board of Education:

I am writing to express my views about the job description posted on the Board of Education website for the superintendent position, and to urge you not to approve the description at the August 30th meeting, in advance of the public forums in September and the public's opportunity to comment.  As you no doubt are aware, the selection of Superintendent is the single most critical decision for the education of our children for the forseeable future.

The current job description is an improvement over the prior draft which required central administration experience, thus eliminating many excellent candidates who have been principals, a position that requires administrative expertise and experience. However, the job description is still heavily weighted to administrative experience and short on the qualities needed to deliver the best possible education to all children in the Metuchen School System--a passion for education, a track record as an outstanding educator, a proven record of innovation, and the ability to lead our teachers to improve academic performance and to motivate students to reach their potential.

The job description will not attract candidates with the qualities noted above because the Board has not signaled that it is interested in those candidates. They will go elsewhere--to Districts where the Board of Education has clearly indicated that they are seeking someone committed to innovation and high standards to enhance the educational experience and performance of students.  The goals stated for the District, such as ensuring a "system of thorough and efficient education" and an "articulated, consistent education for all children" do not aim high for our children.  I appreciate that some language may be required by state law and regulation.  However, whatever state law and regulation require for the description, they surely do not prohibit a stronger statement of academic qualities and aspirations.

In this major regard, the job description does not speak to the aspirations, the values, or the goals that many parents in Metuchen have for their children. On the night that the Board held the forum for the search for the principal of the High School, over 50 parents attended.  As I am sure you recall, we were divided into rooms and the ideas and goals that each group identified for the new superintendent were taped to the walls of the cafeteria afterwards. Every group that reported expressed parents' hopes for their children's education at least in part in terms of academic achievement and the ability to raise the bar for all children and enable them to realize their academic potential. Many groups also stressed innovation and a passion for education. Their words were different--their aspirations for their children's education were consistent and clear.

At a recent Board meeting I attended in July, the presentation on technology in the schools was extremely impressive. The speaker laid out the best practices adopted at other schools systems and the innovative way they are using technology to enrich the educational experience in the classroom. He explained the current strengths and weaknesses at each Metuchen school and the changes that could be made to adopt new practices.  Board members, to their credit, asked him excellent practical questions about how Metuchen could transition to these changes within our budget parameters. No one on the Board, or among the few parents present, objected to the idea of change, to the notion that our schools could be better, or to the prospect that we could provide some, although not all, of the exceptional opportunities that leading school districts provide to their students.

I urge the Board to view this process as the model for the job search--that you seek a superintendent who will do for the schools in the broader sense what the technology consultant proposed for technology in our classrooms and libraries. I suggest that you ask the New Jersey School Boards Association ("NJSBA") consultant assisting the search to provide the Board with copies of the job descriptions for superintendent searches for any of the top 30 school districts in the past 3-5 years. These are public documents and would be readily available.  The job description seems like a standard list (is that what it is?) rather than reflecting any goals for our children's education.  Again, the Board will attract the candidates it seeks.  I note for example that even with respect to technology where the Board has decided to move ahead, the job description  seeks someone who  "keeps professionally current and informed" on the use of technology in education, rather than someone who can provide the leadership to integrate technology into the curriculum, classroom and school environment to enrich the educational opportunities for students at every ability level.

As for the process, the single most important step in any job search is the preparation of a job description. This determines the candidates who will apply for the position and the criteria by which they will be evaluated.  The Board of Education has announced two public forums to solicit the views of parents and the broader community about this crucial decision.  I hope that the public forums have been set up for the express purpose of soliciting the public's views about their aspirations for their children's education and the way in which those aspirations and values will be translated into criteria for the candidate search, as expressed in the job description.  This is the process set forth in the NJSBA website, the group that the Board of Education has chosen to lead the search.  Specifically, as described by the NJSBA, the search should begin as follows:

"The Board reaches out to staff, parents, and community members for input to establish a basis for both short and long-term goals. Using  the District's identified needs as a base, the board catalogues its own strengths, and the strengths within the district and community, that will aid the new superintendent in attaining these goals. This enables the board to develop a profile which includes experience and training, as well as the personal and professional characteristics and skills, which are most appropriate for your district's new superintendent."

 In accord with this process, the Board of Education should meet with the community to solicit their views before preparing the job description which would not be developed, much less approved, before the process of community input.

I have heard, (I hope incorrectly!), that the Board may approve the job description at its meeting on August 30.  Given that the two public forums have been scheduled in September, it is hard to fathom why the Board would move ahead this way.  To date, the public has not been invited to comment on the search.  Board meetings have been held with a full agenda, in the middle of summer when many people are away, and this meeting is August 30.  The Board announcement of the public forums suggests an openness to community input; that will be a charade if the Board approves the job description in advance of those forums.   Approval of the job description in advance of the public forums would  violate the process publicly endorsed by the NJSBA.  It would also be profoundly disrespectful of the parents and community of Metuchen.

In closing, I note that even the best school districts aspire to be better. I urge you to aspire for our children, for our teachers, and for the school system.  Our children deserve nothing less of you and of this superintendent search.

Very truly yours,

Tracy Miller

116 Hillside Avenue

Metuchen, N.J. 08840

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