The Seattle public school district is in the process of selecting a new superintendent, as the old one was thrown out on his ear after running up a $35 million deficit. Four finalist candidates were announced on Sunday, and came to town for a road show this week. The School Board has pledged to announce its decision next Tuesday, Oct. 7. On Monday and Tuesday of this week there were public forums, where two candidates each evening gave presentations and took questions from the audience. The Seattle Times gave comprehensive coverage to the Monday night candidates, with extended quotes from both individuals. Former Cincinnati superintendent Steven Adamowski sounded the most impressive.
I attended last night's forum. The first candidate was Dr. Evelyn Williams Castro, a district superintendent from Brooklyn, NY. Castro is a natural politician. The audience applauded often during her talk and many gave her a standing ovation at the end. Unfortunately, many of her answers revealed a disappointingly backward and counter-productive mindset. For example [ I don't have her exact words, but I summarize her answers as faithfully as I can]
On the question of performance pay for teachers: "I'd have to ask teachers how they feel about that. I think most teachers are simply motivated by teaching children". [well yes, but as with all other professionals, calibrating compensation with performance will only help ensure that we retain the best teachers and encourage the underperforming teachers to either improve or make a career change].
On the question of increasing minority participation in gifted and talented programs: "In an earlier position I redefined the standards to qualify as gifted, and the number of minority participants increased by 42%" [I liked the other candidate's answer better, which was to inspire more minority students to value academic achievement and strive to get into the gifted and talented program, and also to do a better job of preparing the minority students to meet its high standards]
On the question of charter schools, : "I'm worried about private companies like Edison coming in and trying to run schools for a profit. Nobody should be making a profit from our children". Although this last comment won peals of applause from the audience, it also revealed Castro to be either fabulously ignorant or fabulously afraid of anybody who might compete with the public school bureaucrats and teacher unions, because A. very few charter schools have anything to do with Edison. B. lots of people and companies profit from their involvement in public schools, e.g. union officials, textbook publishers, construction companies, investment houses that sell school bonds; C. why should anybody care if somebody makes a profit anyway, as long as they do a good job?
As one might expect from the above answers, the teachers' union thinks that Evelyn Williams Castro is the greatest thing since sliced cheese and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports this news as if its a good thing for the schools to have a union-endorsed superintendent.
The Seattle Times, in spite of its thorough coverage of the Monday candidates, barely mentioned Castro in today's coverage, focusing instead on the troubled history of the other candidate who presented on Tuesday.
Based on her audience reception, teacher union endorsement and the desire of minority activists to have a minority superintendent, I'd guess that Castro is the front-runner. On the other hand, Adamowski comes across as a more forward-thinking and vastly superior superintendent:
Under his direction, the [Cincinnati] district became the first in the state to run charter schools, and one of the first in the country to push a pay-for-performance system. The district was taken off the state's academic watch list when test scores and graduation rates jumped, turning critical business leaders into fans.Sounds good to me.
But his aggressive, no-nonsense style also generated anger from the teachers union and several board members, who found his CEO-style management too heavy-handed for the public sector.
If you live in Seattle and care about our schools, please contact the school board members and offer your feedback on the superintendent candidates.