City school chief candidates will need passion, vision and a plan

As the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners considers candidates for CEO of the 85,000-student system, it should look for qualities that include passion, vision, a plan to realize the vision, a focus on children and outcomes, and political acumen.

These were among suggestions offered by former Maryland State School Superintendent David W. Hornbeck and education experts who participated in panel discussions about the city school system’s CEO search at the GBC Education Committee’s March 6 meeting. During the last 20 years, the GBC has been a key supporter and participant in education reform efforts, both statewide and in Baltimore City.

Hornbeck and the panelists were invited by the GBC Education Committee to discuss qualities that should be sought in a new city schools superintendent.

Panelists included Dr. John E. Deasy, superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, Muriel Berkeley of the Baltimore Curriculum Project, Jason Botel, executive director of Baltimore’s KIPP Ujima Village Academy; and Peter Kannam, Baltimore executive director of New Leaders for New Schools.

The city’s Board of School Commissioners has hired PROACT Search, Inc., a Milwaukee-based executive search firm to assist with identifying and screening candidates for the city schools’ CEO position.

The deadline for candidate applications to PROACT Search, Inc., is March 9. In addition to demonstrated ability to manage a large school system and to plan, communicate and implement action plans, candidates must have updated knowledge of national reform initiatives and best practices, experience in “embracing and celebrating diversity,” a record of fiscal accountability and a “high energy and inspirational” leadership style, according to the job’s posting on the BCPSS web site.

Applicants must also have a minimum of five years’ executive-level experience in a large, diverse organization, preferably in an urban setting, and a master’s degree in education, public or business administration, or related field. A doctorate is preferred, according to the job posting.

Candidates for the city schools CEO position should demonstrate “passionate vision – a sense of what needs to be accomplished,” said Hornbeck, who was Maryland’s state superintendent of schools from 1976 to 1988 and superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools from 1994 to 2000. The vision should not be vague, but a specific “theory of action” that can be implemented and measured, he said.

Also, the ideal CEO for Baltimore’s school system should be in a position to commit to keeping the job “at least a decade,” Hornbeck added. “You cannot do these jobs in a year or two.”

Most panelists agreed that the new CEO must also possess the ability to withstand the “pushes and pulls” of local politics and must be highly focused on outcomes.

The city’s Board of School Commissioners must establish a strong working relationship with the new CEO that is based on trust. That relationship must be able to weather short-term political issues and must ultimately give the system the long-term stability that it needs. The school board must make sure that it nurtures and supports the CEO and allows the CEO discretion to implement a vision, panelists agreed.

New CEO candidates must demonstrate, above all, a high degree of focus on children, not the process, panelists concurred. Some candidates will engage in an entire hour-long interview and “almost not mention children in the course of it,” said Hornbeck.

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