ArabicChinese (Simplified)EnglishFrenchItalianRussianSpanishSwahili

Stay Informed

Getting a Great Superintendent Recap

Leave a Comment


GreatSupe Panel


Last week about 120 people came out the night of the Pirates playoff game to take part in a discussion focused on search process best practices (get ‘em next year Buccos!). Participants had an opportunity to learn from former school board members Alex Matthews and Patrick Dowd, from Valerie Dixon, a community activist who served as a volunteer screener for the hiring of the Chief of Police, Robert Cavalier, a professor who runs the Project for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University and Leigh Halverson, a former Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Peduto who helped organize his nationwide search for top talent to fill appointed roles in city government.

After the panel discussion, many people left, presumably to go catch the start of the Pirates game. The participants that remained broke into small discussion groups to consider questions about what they found most interesting from the panel, who they think should be involved in the search process, and how they would like to be involved in the superintendent search process. In between discussion questions, participants used their mobile phones to participate in polling on these questions and others, including: Should the board conduct a national search (100% responded yes), and how should stakeholders be engaged (the number one choice of participants was through CMU’s deliberative democracy process). For complete polling results and a summary of small group discussion notes click here.

What we learned

While the discussion was far ranging, there were three important themes that emerged from the panel and the small group discussion and polling that occurred afterward.

1. The Board has an incredibly important, difficult and time consuming job ahead. Governing Pennsylvania’s second largest school district and improving educational outcomes for over 24,000 students while conducting the search for its next leader will require significant time and effort. Engaging more people to help will increase community ownership about the final decision.

2. Stakeholder input is essential – you can’t have too much. All of our speakers stressed the importance of getting representative perspectives from across the community to provide input on the vision that the Board could set for what they want from the next Superintendent. While there are many different perspectives about what works in education, so too are there in perspectives on policing and criminal justice. The deliberative democracy process that was used to help build the list of criteria for the next chief allowed every voice to be heard, and created a roadmap for a community based screening committee to make recommendations. Participants strongly agreed that stakeholder input is essential (with strong support for meetings that solicit input of both the community in regional meetings and stakeholders like teachers, parents and students), identified a broad range of stakeholders who should be involved, and offered a variety of ideas about what they are willing to do to help engage others. Participants in this meeting favored CMU’s deliberative democracy process because of its structured and objective format that both educated and engaged many voices. Participants created a large list of stakeholders that should be engaged and offered numerous ways in which they would like to be involved in the process and in increasing engagement.

3. Process matters. Panelists and meeting participants talked a lot about how a structured, transparent and fair process that is heavy on stakeholder input is important for building community support not only for the next superintendent, but for the future of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Each speaker emphasized that the more help that the board can get, the better the outcome will be. Tapping into the expertise and connections of multiple members of the community can help increase the Board’s reach as they try to find candidates. Participants especially appreciated Valerie Dixon’s experience as a screening panel member for the Chief McClay search.

Recruiting and selecting the next superintendent for Pittsburgh Public Schools is an amazing opportunity to build community investment in the success of our district and our students. The superintendent’s position is more than just the leader of our schools. This person will set a vision and tone for our community and region about what it means to serve children well. Thankfully, we have good examples and insights from former school board members, the Talent City process, and other selection processes both in Pittsburgh and across the country. The Board has an opportunity and challenge to develop a strong search process that is transparent, fair and inclusive of many community voices. It won’t be easy, but as last Wednesday’s meeting showed us, they’ll have lots of people willing to help if they ask.
You can learn more about the process used to select Chief McLay and what the research tells us we should be looking for from a school leader by watching PCTV21 later this month for our interview with Leigh Halverson and Dr. Olga M. Welch, Dean of the School of Education at Duquesne University.