May 19, 2017 Published in Editorials

Finding A New School Leader Editorial

Three members of the Board have been directly involved with the Superintendent search and hiring process, two of those members in searches for the Alexandria City Public Schools system. This search comes at a particularly sensitive moment for ACPS and we urge the School Board to take the time that is needed to find the correct leader for our school system.

A seasoned and calm professional to temporarily lead ACPS, preferably someone who will not be in the running for the position, is paramount. Look to the Virginia Association of School Superintendents or the Virginia School Board Association as a starting point in that regard.  Move on from there to hire a search firm with national connections and which is familiar with a so-called “fast track” search.  This is not the first time a fast track has been conducted in Alexandria, with the goal of having a new superintendent hired by the spring of the following year. A national firm has a much larger pool of excellent candidates to choose from, many with the type of experience that ACPS needs for our students. 

The school system has had more than its fair share of leadership tumult – it is time for the School Board to recognize that fact in its hiring process. The new Superintendent should be chosen for their ability to lead a highly diverse system and to prepare reasoned and financially achievable budgets that meet the system’s goals for long term sustainable gains in student achievement. Our student’s deserve an education that provides them with the readiness required to enter the workforce and voting pool as productive and knowledgeable citizens. Not one of our schools should be “failing”. This individual also needs to have the people skills to get out and about in the community as a whole and to be able to work openly and constructively with the City Manager, their staff counterpart in City government, and with the City Council which provides ACPS funding. The leadership credibility of the School Board is in serious need of restoration. It is our opinion that the Ad Hoc Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force should never have been deemed necessary. 

We strongly encourage the School Board to refocus. New and renovated buildings are not related to student learning. As long as there is a safe and climate controlled environment, students can learn. Class size after the early grade years is also only loosely linked to student achievement – many higher achieving schools with similar demographics in northern Virginia exceed ACPS class sizes. What has been and will always be the most direct link to student achievement is the teacher in front of the classroom. There is no magic formula – excellent teachers get results. Excellent principals hire excellent teachers. And a Superintendent focused on student achievement will actively seek out excellent principals and work with them to achieve what they need to make their individual school’s succeed. Playing Hard Hat Harry is fun and glamorous but it does not get the job done in the classroom – only good teachers do that.  

Finally, we offer our best wishes to Dr. Crawley in his new endeavors.

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