All signs pointed to the announcement of a new superintendent for Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District to happen at the June 11 trustee meeting. While this did not occur, causing much speculation in the community, the process searching for the new superintendent, allows for more time to ensure that the new leader fits the district’s needs.
The agenda for the “Regular Meeting of the Board of Trustees” listed a most dramatic moment. Item 5A lifts the curtain a few inches from the floor: “Approval of the Employment Agreement for District Superintendent.” The board meeting should have been crowded with principals, teachers and community members anticipating the introduction of the school district’s next leader. In reality, on that 100+ degree June evening, more PG&E employees than educators populated the board meeting room, a strong suggestion that something was amiss.
The agenda, released Fri., June 7, gave some clues as it told about a trip made by three board members to Temecula Valley Unified School District on May 16. From that point it was not difficult to determine whom this prospective superintendent was. A few hours’ computer search reading news articles told the story. A couple of phone calls to Temecula Valley and to other educational contacts confirmed that Cotati-Rohnert Park had selected a very fine candidate.
Just after 6:30 p.m. on June 11, school board president Leff Brown reported out Item 5A in one short sentence: “We did not reach agreement with our candidate for personal reasons.”
Forty minutes later, with few reports and business as usual, the meeting adjourned.
Steve Goldstone and Dave Brown, Cosca Group consultants, have carefully steered the district through a process that allowed all stakeholders input into this most critical action. This followed Cosca Group’s mission statement: “We involve district leadership in every phase and every key decision and provide continuous communication, frequent updates, and convenient access to consultants throughout the process.” As these consultants have delivered on these promises during the past four months, they have earned the respect of the trustees and the community, so that an extended wait for the right superintendent becomes more than an act of faith.
Cosca Group and its two consultants who have led this search realize their task goes far beyond the duties of headhunters. Public education, the foundation of American values, relies on the participation of all community members. Cosca Group asserts its belief system just below its letterhead: “We believe that education is a cooperative effort of family, school, and community and that all children deserve the opportunity for success in schools.”
To date, Goldstone and Brown have involved many stakeholders. In Feb. and Mar., they conducted 31 meetings and ran several polls to determine the needs of our community in a superintendent. With the board’s input and direction based on all of this input, on Mar.26 they identified desired leadership qualities and characteristics. And from this information, the consultants put together a hiring brochure that the trustees approved at the beginning of April.
One conclusion based on the perception of the recent district leadership was that the district had poor communication, a failure of transparency, and policies that lacked inclusion of all of the community. This led to an identification of what was needed in a superintendent.
The brochure’s opening statement set the tone for the desired new leadership: “The Board of Trustees of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District seeks a long-term relationship with a collegial leader who can build on the district’s strengths through the development of an effect governance team led by its Superintendent of Schools.”
What does that look like? The eight past superintendents have each in his or her unique way maintained a distance from nearly all of the stakeholders. Most importantly, none of these superintendents were effective leaders of teachers and principals because they all distanced themselves from the realities of the classrooms and the campuses. They were content to hire consultants to lead trainings while they often stood aloof at the back of the training rooms. They rarely visited a campus long enough to get a feel for what was really happening.
What can be learned from looking at this history? A good superintendent will not just be available for teachers, principals and community members. A good superintendent will be engaged with all of the stakeholders in educational activities. A good superintendent will be a presence on the school campuses and accessible to everyone. A good superintendent will be a teacher, a mentor and a communicator.
Following eight figure heads who emphasized one feature or another but never actively participated in the educational process, superintendent number nine must be the leader that Cotati-Rohnert Park schools has been missing for forty years. A true leader will continue to teach, mentor and lead by example.
The weekend study of the prospective candidate highlighted just what a great superintendent will do: stand in front of employees and conduct the training, listen to employees needs and act upon that information, mentor school leaders and always serve as an example of how they should conduct themselves.
The process to find the best superintendent seems slow but a wait for a “real” superintendent will not hurt as this community has been waiting for forty years. The good news is that the school board and the consultant team are committed to making the right choice. They have set their standards high because this community deserves a superintendent who is a teacher, a mentor and a leader.
“Nothing is ever lost,” stated Governor Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men” and repeated reporter Jack Burden. And that rings true in this superintendent search. The community did not get the excellent candidate from Temecula Valley but did learn more about what a great superintendent looks like. And now, more informed, the search continues.