A task best done publicly

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2013

“It’s the task of the next superintendent to provide some healing and relationship-building to bring the community to rally behind the school system — that’s already a good system that can go back and be a great school system.”
That could be a tailor-made summation of one criteria the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education should have in mind as it looks for a new school leader. You could imagine those words coming from a local school board member or a member of the business community or an economic development official — or simply from a concerned parent who recognizes the rough patch in which schools and their leaders find themselves, as well as the crucial role schools play in the community.
In fact, the quote comes from a school superintendent candidate, but not for the Rowan-Salisbury post. The speaker was Dana Bedden, currently a superintendent in Irving, Texas, and one of three finalists for the superintendency of the Wake County School System, which has seen its share of controversy.
His comment bears repeating for a couple of reasons. As noted above, it offers good guidance for this community during our own search. But just as important as the content of the words is the context in which they were spoken: Bedden made the statement during a public forum Tuesday evening at which all three finalists appeared in the flesh and took questions from the public.
That’s a model of an open search process, one that belies the argument that finalists for important appointive posts need to be kept under wraps lest the attendant publicity scare good candidates away. Not only did the Wake board release the finalists’ names before it has offered one the job. It also gave the community a chance to meet the candidates and size them up personally. As you may recall, leaders of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College followed a similarly open process in naming the finalists and bringing them to the campus before choosing a new college president in 2009.
As we’ve said before, that’s what the Rowan-Salisbury school board also should do, at an appropriate time in the process. Board members made a good first step recently when they held a forum to gauge public sentiment on the superintendent search. Yes, it was disappointing that so few people attended. However, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign the public doesn’t care about being kept informed or doesn’t have an investment in hiring the best possible candidate.
Just as is the case in Wake County, this community will need to rally behind the next Rowan-Salisbury superintendent, whoever that may be. Letting the public get to know the finalists is a powerful way to gauge the candidates’ candor as well as build trust in the final decision.