From Tracy Miller and Barry Sopher:
October 2, 2011
To Members of the Board of Education:
We are writing to
follow up on the two public forums held on the Superintendent search. We each
attended one of the forums. While we appreciate the opportunity the Board
afforded to parents to attend and comment, we write to express our concerns
shared by many parents at both forum sessions.
Timeframe for the Search. Parents at both sessions expressed grave reservations
about the extremely aggressive timeframe for the search. Indeed, it is hard to fathom why the
Board would seek to fill the single most important position in the school
district in an eight-week search, unless a crisis exists that cannot be managed
on an interim basis. Although Ms. Thorton
reiterated many times that it is a "search not a settlement" we want to convey a
sense of widely shared alarm that this timeframe will invariably compromise the
Transparency in the Search Process.
At the first forum, parents requested the opportunity to see the essays
submitted by candidates. Parents
also requested the chance to see the report or even just the summary prepared
of the public sessions. Ms. Thorton responded that the Board had no obligation
to provide this information and there was no time in light of the timeframe for
the search for parents to comment further or even review the summary.
Questions for the
Board. We understand that the
Board did not attend the public forums to give parents more latitude to comment.
We would have hoped, however, that
in addition to those sessions the Board would have held at least one session to
have a genuine dialogue with members of the public--to hear from people directly and to respond
openly to the many questions the community has. (The chance to attend a Board meeting with a full business
agenda and come to the microphone for a minute at 10:30 or later is neither an
invitation from the Board for a real dialogue nor an opportunity for one) Since that has not happened, and you have
not planned any such session, we ask the following questions and would
appreciate a prompt reply.
1. The consultant
reiterated that the job description is boilerplate and not meaningful. This
means that the community has no statement from the Board about what it seeks in
the search. What are the Board's leading criteria for the next Superintendent
that will be used to evaluate candidates both initially and in the final
2. What are the professional strengths and personal characteristics the Board seeks in the next Superintendent? What are the Board's priorities for the school system over the next five years, and how does that relate to the priorities in seeking a new Superintendent?
3. Are you seeking someone with a proven track record of academic improvement, either as a principal or a key role in a district that has shown measureable improvement or has a record of high academic performance?
4. Why have you chosen the extremely aggressive timeframe for the search? Are you concerned that the school system can't be managed on an interim basis?
5. Will you make the consultant's report and/or summary of the public forums available to the public? If not, why not?
6. Have you identified a set of questions you will ask candidates? Will you make those questions publicly available? If not, why not?
We presume that the Board has given much thought to these issues already given the timeframe for the search and would appreciate your reply as quickly as possible, and before the search concludes. We intend to share the reply with others. As noted above, parents repeatedly requested more information and greater transparency in the process.
Summary of Public Comments at the Forums. In the absence of any public record of parents' comments at the two sessions, we summarize the major points that clearly emerged at the sessions.
Need for Change. We conclude by expressing our strong disagreement with the consultant's advice to the Board which she shared at the second session when parents expressed, as they did in session one, the desire for a change agent. Ms. Thorton said she advised the Board that it "should be prepared" if it hired a change agent for "a huge amount of pushback from the community." That comment leaves us despairing that Ms. Thornton did not appreciate, and will not convey to you clearly and unequivocally, the message stated by parents repeatedly both nights--parents are seeking improvement, they are seeking leadership to raise academic standards, they are seeking accountability in the academic performance of the schools and rewards tied to that performance--all of which requires change from the current status quo.
The simple fact, as you know, is that the Metuchen School District does not compare favorably to in the state rankings to "I" districts in all sorts of measures of academic performance, and parents in this community care about this. This poor performance has been evident for a decade. The state rankings also show that the Metuchen School District ranks very high in teacher salaries and funding of the District. We strongly argue that any candidate to be superintendent of the Metuchen School District should be asked to identify concretely what he or she would do to address these sub-standard rankings and to improve our programs in math and science, long recognized as a weakness in the school system.
It is clear that the community is willing to support the schools in this District--and year after year has approved the budgets put forward by the Board. We, and our children, are entitled to have a Superintendent who has the commitment and talent to make changes that will improve the academic performance of the District.
As noted above, in light of the timeframe for the search, we would appreciate a prompt reply.
Very truly yours,
116 Hillside Avenue
179 Lake Avenue