What type of leader?

June 9, 2011

Within an hour of my hearing the news of Dr. Gorman’s departure, a retired journalist all but stuck a microphone in my face and asked what kind of person CMS needs to succeed the departing superintendent. What I said wasn’t necessarily representative of this organization, or any other. But I do hope it is the answer this community arrives at over time.

The fundamental flaw in our direction for the schools is to believe that we can succeed at educating all children well, or even achieve the N.C. constitutional mandate of a “sound basic education” for all, in settings that separate our children by their parents’ race or socioeconomic status. All but a handful of people directly leading our school system appear either honestly to believe that they can succeed despite these separations, or know better and deceitfully sidestep the issue. They will not tangle with a public that has been repeatedly told that their child is the most important in the world, and that parents’ convenience is among the school district’s most important values.

No one person, no one superintendent, can alter this public view that now controls our community’s painful slide. It will take many voices raised from pulpits and board rooms and barber shops and porch stoops if we are to expect better of ourselves. Perhaps the voices that will be heard and heeded first in this next chapter of our life together will be the voices of children.

But if we are really looking for a school leader, then we might look for one who is aware of this fundamental challenge, who will wholeheartedly embrace the change, and who has the laserlike focus on the good of all people that will allow her or him to value that above test scores, above prizes and awards, and above the empty accolades of the comfortable.

– Steve Johnston