Friday, March 30, 2007

From this week's LEO

The superintendent gap
What if one of the best jobs in the nation opened up and nobody wanted it because it was so oppressively thankless? While that description might sound like the men's basketball head coaching position at UK, it's also what the Jefferson County Board of Education seems to be facing in its search for a new superintendent. After browbeating its current guy into fleeing north for friendlier environs (still not talking about UK here), the board saw two of its three favorite candidates drop out of contention, citing those pesky, old "personal reasons."

That leaves the board with exactly one candidate for the job: Sheldon Berman. While he's got laudable experience in conflict resolution and social justice, he's also a white Yankee who leads a Massachusetts school district that has a total of 46 African American students. Sounds like the perfect candidate to lead the 98,000-student JCPS, where 37% of students are black, right?

Not to leaders of the Louisville NAACP and the Justice Resource Center, who are demanding that the board reopen the search, ideally finding a candidate who's not whiter than the bald spots on the Louisville Country Club's yachting subcommittee. During a blizzard.

So, why aren't great candidates lining up for the JCPS job? The gig is pretty sweet. JCPS is the nation's31st largest school district, with distinguished schools, teachers, administrators and students. It has a history of progressive problem solving, high parent satisfaction, and improving test scores. And the superintendent job pays more than 200K per year - not quite college-basketball benjamins (hey, we have our priorities), but not too shabby.

But then there's this: Like all urban districts, some of Jefferson County's schools are having trouble meeting NCLB benchmarks that most educators agree are unfunded mandates with unrealistic goals. And, well, the last superintendent got the boot after doing what most people believe was an outstanding job. Oh, and there's this: the US Supreme Court might overturn the district's wildly successful racial desegregation program that has served as a model for school districts nationwide. No matter what the court decides, some group of constituents is going to be pissed.

So, who's the perfect candidate? Somebody with outstanding diplomatic skills, a keen understanding of education and the politics of race, and somebody who reflects the racial makeup of Jefferson County's student body. And even though Barack Obama seems kinda busy right now, surely JCPS will expand the search. Right?

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