Instability is bad for schools, and the churn of superintendents that Oakland has suffered has been bad for the system. We are going on our 9th, correct that, 10th, superintendent in the last 16 years, with the inevitable stalls during transitions, and churns and learning curves as the new person comes in, with or without their team.
Running through the list since 2000, it’s a long one- Antwan Wilson, Gary Yee (acting), Tony Smith, Roberta Mayor (interim), Vince Matthews (State Administrator), Kim Statham (State Administrator), Randy Ward (State Administrator), and Dennis Chaconas. Now we have an interim, in Dr. Devin Dillon, appointed last night, while we search for the “permanent” superintendent.
With each change, there is a period where things stagnate during the search, usually around 6 months, then things stall as the new person comes in and orients themselves, give that another 6 months, then strategic initiatives start to get implemented, and hopefully to gather some momentum, which takes years. Then they leave.
Then a new person comes in and the cycle starts over again. It can’t keep going like this. A continuing cycle to nowhere.
A homegrown option?
Coincidence or not, EdSource ran a piece this week, Home-grown school superintendents bring stability, deep knowledge to their districts. They run through the high rates of superintendent turnover and identify some notable exceptions to the trend of revolving doors; homegrown superintendents.
As Edsource noted,
A recent EdSource survey showed that 17 of the superintendents of the state’s 30 largest districts have been in their posts for three years or less. Nine of them were appointed in 2016 alone.
There was a set of supes who countered this trend though,
A small group of home-grown school superintendents in California defy the stereotype of a school leader who parachutes into a district, spends three or four years there, and moves on to a new job in another district.
And they run through a range of rationales for the home grown stability; local familiarity with the levers of change and resistance, a differing motivation—looking at making their home better rather than seeing this job as a stepping stone to the next one, and the sense of trust that long relationships create.
My first thought was…”shit, I wish we had a Supe for 4 years, can’t remember the last one.” Superintendent Chacones, who I thought did a fine job, and was left holding a bag of financial crap from years prior, was the last Oakland educator I remember and probably the longest lasting in the last 20 years or more.
The EdSource article also highlighted Long Beach Unified, often cited as a diverse and relatively high achieving district- a model. I don’t think its coincidental that their local leader has been at the helm since 2002.
While I would never advocate employment discrimination, I would love us to hire someone with young kids in local schools. Or someone with roots here, a situation where she isn’t looking for the next bigger gig, but is 100% committed to making things better here.
Oakland’s schools too often serve as the backdrop for someone else’s story. It’s time we make them the central character, and we need the next superintendent to make a long term commitment, this serial dating sh*t is getting old.