Superintendent search: Who will fit the profile?

Based on input from the hastily scheduled superintendent search forums (I went to one at Westlake Middle School with about 10 people, including the school principal), the search firm Ray & Associates created a profile of the ideal candidate, which the Oakland school board approved this week.

You can find the complete document, which touts Oakland’s assets  — diversity, weather, professional sports, even the zoo — here. Candidates have until April 21 to turn in their applications for this $275,000-plus-benefits job (which, strangely enough, might seem like a deal after paying two executives $250,000 apiece.)

The characteristics sound pretty generic, actually. Do you agree that the profile (below) describes the sort of leader/superhuman Oakland needs? What would you add?

Oakland Unified School District Seeks a Superintendent Who Possesses the Following Characteristics

• Will inspire trust, has high levels of self-confidence and optimism, and models high standards of integrity and personal performance.

• Is strongly committed to a “student first” philosophy in all decisions.
• Has demonstrated the ability to enhance student performance and to use research, especially in identifying and closing or narrowing the gaps in student achievement.

• Possesses the leadership skills required to respond to the challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community.
• Demonstrates effective communication skills to include speaking, listening and writing within a diverse community.
• Has successful experience in the selection and implementation of educational priorities consistent with the interests and needs of students, staff, board and community.
• Is able to build consensus and commitment among individuals and groups with emphasis on parental involvement.

• Will listen to input, but can make a decision when necessary.
• Has knowledge of and successful experience in sound fiscal practices, contract negotiations, and management of district resources, including appropriate participation of others in planning and decision-making.
• Is able to lead a large organization dedicated to goals of continuous improvement.

image from John Morton’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Pepe

    What about willingness to anger many people (parents, board members, teachers) when making the right decisions for our kids, working to identify what is broken, and working relentlessly to fix it?

    How about dedication to staying with the district and sticking around until certain goals are in place and self-sustaining?

    How many of our board members do you think are willing to cede some power to a person with the right vision and the skills to make it happen?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Why is the $275,000 plus extras a deal when the State State Superintendent becomes a trustee with State video power over the budget until the debt is paid.

    Katy, what information do you have that indicates there be a cut in pay for the State Superintendent if and when Jack O’Connell transitions Mr. Vincent Mitchell to the role of State trustee by restoring full power to the Oakland School Board? Is there an MOU that makes clear what the State Superintendent will be paid when his role and responsibility change?

    I assume that a new Superintendent at $275,000 will increase the cost of two salaries out of general funding because the State Superintendent by whatever name will continue to receive $250,000 and Ms. Mayor’s replacement will receive $25,000 more.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katy Murphy

    Good point, Jim. I was referring to the (unknown) point in time when OUSD will have just one CEO salary on the payroll.

    But you’re right, who knows when that will be.

  • Nancy

    What’s missing from the job description is that in addition to the above stated qualities, he/she should be a strong background in finance to understand the full implications of sound and unsound decision-making at any level.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I’m with Pepe. Those are on my list of criteria. I don’t think they need a superhuman, just someone who knows how to lead — To prioritize, unite, delegate, motivate and hold accountable. That’s all.

    They shouldn’t want someone who thinks she/he can single-handedly do anything. They need someone who can implement a vision through the skills I mentioned above.

    My question is will people stop the infighting long enough to give the person a chance?

  • harlemmoon

    A Superintendent is only the beginning. But, I suppose, you’ve gotta start somewhere.
    This Supe must have greater authority over EVERY aspect of the distirct – akin to the special powers given the President in times of war. The point made earlier re: the board relinquishing some of its so-called power is a great start.
    One item that is glaringly missing is that the new Supe must have a long-term and short-term VISION for the district in all critical areas such as academic, financial and operations.

  • John

    “This Supe must have greater authority over EVERY aspect of the district – akin to the special powers given the President in times of war.” That sounds like a ‘definition of powers’ for a state administrator. However, given OUSD pre state control history I can certainly understand having some reservations about returning to a strict ‘Oakland community/school board democracy’ model.

    Nancy: According to Dennis Chaconas, Oakland’s last superintendent (prior to state take-over) was focused on matters of district curriculum NOT district finance. Perhaps the new guy/gal should have an expanded job description AND expanded skills. One problem with credential training for California school administrators (school administration credential) is its lack of in depth school finance training. Perhaps someone with an advanced accounting degree who also (happens to) hold a CA school administrative credential would be a better fit.

    Some background with juvenile detainment facilities could also prove helpful to seeing the wisdom of separating the (academic) wheat from the tares (schools segregation for the do wells).

  • harlemmoon


    Watching that so-called school board in action is akin to watching Looney Tunes. They are largely ill-informed, out of touch and utterly power hungry. In fact, some of the very same board members who were on the panel at the time of state takeover are STILL on the board! How’s that for insanity.
    They all should have been run out of town. Why? Because many of the same problems exist while the same clueless leadership attempts to guide the district through what are arguably the most difficult times it’s seen in ages.
    The Supe will need extraordinary powers to make the much-needed, long-sought extraordinary change.

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Harlemmoon: On this we agree. It’s too bad the “Looney Tuners” get to make the nod on who gets the OUDS top job. Let’s hope it’s an accidental good call.

    I have no problem with a supreme OUSD commander, providing he/she has a background and breadth of experience that gives him/her a fair shot at hitting the various critical marks. The all powerful state administrators possessed the kind of authority of which you speak, but their primary mandate was tax payer allegiance, with a focus on the financials or moving the district out of deficit status, not better academic performance.

    Randy Ward, OUSD’s first state administrator, eventually took an uncharacteristic stab at improving academic performance (not something he previously attempted as state administrator in Compton). What he lacked in experience he tried to make up for with experimentation (e.g., X number dollar budget per site for teacher salaries, etc.). The district became his private experiment in urban with a captive school board rubber stamp. Ironically, Randy’s biggest contribution was helping facilitate the growth of charter schools giving Oakland parents enrollment choices they’d never had, and OEA wished they didn’t.

    I doubt many mortals are up to the task of taking on or coping with the overwhelming challenges of an OUSD or “the strength of its (conflicting) diversity,” as reflected in the ‘peoples choice school board.’ Your observation about the ‘same people’ still being on the board is interesting given that their powers were frozen when the state administrator took charge disenabling them from doing ‘right or wrong or being accountable for anything, and couldn’t except of course what lead to the take over. However, in the heat of resistance all was apparently forgotten when the state came to town. Apparently you haven’t forgotten, and I hope you’re not alone.

    Now that board members are finally getting their wands back let’s hope the electorate make some changes we can believe in, although wishing upon a star has always proven a better alternative. Actually, some folks on board the board weren’t present, or just coming aboard, when the mega surprise deficit excrement hit the fan. Maybe they could stay and the old crimers could run for City Council or Dog Catcher? (Sorry puppy.)

    One of the biggest problems articulated by another contributor here is the integration of high & lowest/zero achievers. But that seemingly can’t be remedied because “integration is good” and “segregation is bad,” no exceptions! Neither can extra resources be invested in students who invest in themselves because it would be “unfair” to the students who don’t. Fact is, existing district trends, policies, and culture do more to push good students out and reduce overall measures of OUSD academic success.

    The leftest school district that keeps getting left behind needs ‘change’ that students with potential can believe in.

    It would require a clever savvy new superintendent with a breadth of experience and strength of tenacity second to none to properly take on that job. As I’m sure we agree Harlemmoon, someone with the qualities and insights of a Nextset would be the absolute perfect choice!

  • Nancy

    John: Yes! Yes! and Yes!!! Most definitely, an advanced accounting degree along with the other skills would be the best choice because of all of the organizational sociopaths in almost every aspect of America have taken advantage of all of the chaos that the incompetents have created.

  • Catherine

    Not only is integration wonderful and separation evil because the brightest of the bright will scaffold the others up our wonderful district just “knows” what’s best for our students. – – – and well, those that are doing the scaffolding . . . they’ll be fine, and with the “gifts” they received at birth, they have a responsibility to the others, even if they are only 7 – it has to start somewhere.

    I sincerely hope the new superintendent actually uses educational research to make decisions rather than the “experience” of the teachers. The longest studies have shown that separating the kids into three basic groups – those with high intelligence, average intelligence and those of low intelligence rather than test scores, which can be radically different based on parenting and teacher ability, would actually help the students at the top and have virtually no affect – positive or negative – on the inability to “scaffold” at the bottom.

    Nearly all kids studied knew and reported that the highest intelligence kids did not make them work harder, think better or become better students. The students themselves reported knowing that they would never come close to measuring up to the high intelligence kids and they got tired of watching the bright kids understand mathematical and reasoning concepts before they were even explained by the teacher.

    A good superintendent must believe in longitudinal studies and create policies that are supported by evidence, not a FALSE notion of “equity” which cheats many of the brightest Oakland students, but makes the school board, teachers and principals FEEL better about their decisions and their laziness when it comes to knowing the research, changing the status quo and allowing real learning to take place.