Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who's Next? Goodbye, Tom Brady, Hello ___________.

Because it seems that the various dramas of the past six weeks in the universe of the Providence Public Schools must not have been enough, yesterday delivered to us three new headspinners:  Tom Brady's resignation, RIDE's announcement of four Providence schools targeted for intervention due to persistent poor performance, and RIDE's announcement (finally!) of its approval of the turnaround plans of the five Providence schools targeted a year ago for intervention. Here's a link to RIDE's PDF press release about both year's turnaround-targeted Providence schools.

Blog-post-wise, let's take these one at a time. First up: PPSD's superintendent vacancy. Tom Brady has resigned as Providence's superintendent, effective July 15. Here's WRNI's post that contains Brady's full letter of resignation and here's the ProJo coverage with video of Brady's press conference at which he announced his resignation. For those keeping score at home, Brady was our fourth superintendent in 11 years, and for a way to put that into some sort of national context, here's a useful overview of the state of the urban superintendency with a particular focus on years on the job from District Administrator magazine. Even by the dismal standards of the average persistence of urban superintendents, Providence isn't doing all that well.

Needless to say, with many others I regret the likely chaos that this creates. Brady's departure swiftly follows that of Chief Academic Officer Sharon Contreras' move to take the superintendent post in Syracuse, New York. We're looking at a leadership void just when students, teachers, and families are feeling particularly shaken by the precipitous process of closing schools, when we have more questions than answers, and when everything already feels up in the air.

That said, (not to be totally opportunistic but there's no point in waiting) this moment represents a real occasion to choose the next leaders of our district with meaningful input from and participation of young people, parents, educators, and community members. Will that take time? Yes, of course: see the messiness of democracy, etc. Do we have adequate infrastructure in place to hold and act on those conversation? Not completely. But we must start and sustain conversations about the qualities we expect from our next school system leadership so that the city can hire in a way that includes input from all stakeholders.

I've heard nothing yet about the hiring process that will ensue so while there's the hope that exists before we know anything, I am voicing this need: we need a process that meaningfully includes all stakeholders, that is conducted efficiently but not hastily, and that secures us leaders who can dig in deep and stay here for the long haul, building on what works, finding ways to change what doesn't, and using the considerable assets of our city to create the schools we desperately need now.

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