Editorial: The next superintendent

  • Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013 8:53 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, April 7, 2013 1:11 p.m.

Members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education face an opportunity this year to establish their legacy, and it does not involve building a central office. With Dr. Judy Grissom retiring in September, the board can choose a new superintendent who will set the tone for not only the school system’s future, but also the county’s.

That’s all the more reason for the board to conduct a genuine search that gives employees and the public a voice in the process.

The “search” did not go that way in 2005 when the board recruited Grissom. A former associate superintendent here, Grissom had worked in Rowan schools from 1981 to 1995. Some people believed she should have risen to superintendent then, but Dr. Joe McCann got the post and eliminated Grissom’s position. She graciously moved on. By the time McCann’s successor, Dr. Wiley Doby resigned, Bryce Beard was chairman of the school board. He and most of his fellow board members knew exactly whom they wanted to hire — Grissom, then an associate superintendent in Alamance County but still living in Rowan. Even as they talked publicly about conducting a search, they were moving swiftly behind the scenes to negotiate a contract with Grissom.

That questionable process aside, Grissom was a popular choice with the public, too. Heading the Rowan-Salisbury schools felt like a homecoming for her. Experienced educators were heartened by the leadership of someone who was rooted in the community and understood the challenges they faced day in and day out. For many, she was the right person at the right time.

Eight years later, the school system is in a different place, and so is the community. Public education has come under political fire, and the schools appear vulnerable. Despite gains in many areas, some schools struggle to raise test scores. The recession has exacerbated disadvantages.

Our schools need a superintendent who can confront problems head-on, take criticism in stride, lead in a spirit of collaboration and be a high-profile advocate for public education in Rowan County.

Chairman Richard Miller says the school board will work with the N.C. School Boards Association to find Grissom’s successor, and there’s no reason to doubt him. A genuine, thorough search is in order. And while high-level candidates often want confidentiality, the board has to weigh that against the extremely public role this person must fill. Involving the public in the hiring process can include everything from prioritizing the strengths the next superintendent should have to bringing in finalists for forums or committee interviews. Citizens can play a valuable role.

“Any area that can solve its educational challenges can write their own economic ticket,” Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner once said here. Rowan County would like to write that ticket. A new superintendent can’t transform the community singlehandedly, but the right person could help the community own up to its educational challenges and move forward.

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