Foss: In search for new superintendent, Schenectady school board needs to look inward

The school board should tap leaders from outside the district to advise it on its search for a new superintendent.
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The school board should tap leaders from outside the district to advise it on its search for a new superintendent.

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

The Schenectady school board isn’t in a hurry to find a new district superintendent. 

That’s good, because I’m not in a hurry for them to find a new superintendent. 

The bizarre circumstances surrounding former Schenectady superintendent Larry Spring’s resignation last month call for an extensive post-mortem, introspection and a more democratic approach to hiring a new district head. 

I know, I know. 

The school board isn’t going to do any of these things. 

They’re eager to turn the page on Spring’s odd and sudden departure – so eager, they signed off on a separation agreement that included vows of secrecy for both Spring and the board and promises not to disparage each other. 

Calling this a strange turn of events doesn’t do it justice. 

The board was nothing if not loyal to Spring, offering nary a critical word during his eight-year tenure, boosting his pay from $181,200 to $205,600 and moving in lockstep to support his agenda. 

They’re still moving in lockstep, of course, but the cause has changed. 

Now the board’s united front is dedicated to keeping mum about what might have led Spring to submit his resignation during a pandemic that shuttered schools throughout the region. 

The lack of transparency is as appalling as it is telling. 

If nothing else, it suggests that Spring’s tenure was far rockier than it appeared, and calls the board’s credibility into question. 

Why, exactly, should the public trust them to pick Spring’s successor? 

This is the second time in 10 years that a Schenectady superintendent has left under a cloud. 

The men and women currently serving on the school board weren’t in charge when former superintendent Eric Ely was forced to resign amid revelations that district facilities manager Steven Raucci terrorized other district staff.

But their behavior doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, which is unfortunate, because it would be nice to see the Schenectady school board hire a superintendent who doesn’t turn out to be a total dud. 

To that end, I would recommend undertaking an exhaustive review of the Spring era. 

Correcting the mistakes of the past requires understanding what went wrong. 

Certainly, there were hints of trouble long before Spring stepped down, such as a 2017 school board meeting where over 100 teachers aired grievances about the learning and teaching environment in Schenectady schools. 

But it’s unclear how seriously these concerns were taken by either Spring or the school board. 

Board members should reach out to teachers and principals to gain a better understanding of where Spring’s day-to-day leadership might have fallen short. They should also speak with parents and students, and spend more time observing classrooms to understand what’s needed going forward. 

Some board members have suggested public input into the superintendent search come toward the end of the process, after finalists have been selected. 

This might be an acceptable position if the board wasn’t so intent on adopting a “nothing to see here” posture toward the Spring years. Their lack of transparency makes public input and engagement at the beginning of the process an absolute must. They need to seek guidance from the public, and they need to do it as soon as possible.

I would also suggest tapping local leaders from outside the district to advise the school district on its search for a new superintendent – people like Robert Carreau, head of The Schenectady Foundation, or Karen Bradley, head of the Schenectady County library system, both of whom have insight into the needs of city youth and experience collaborating with other groups and organizations. 

Finally, the board should make an effort to involve community leaders in the search process – people like Jamaica Miles, William Rivas and Omar Sterling McGill.

Spring’s departure wasn’t business as usual, and the search for his replacement shouldn’t be business as usual, either. 

The board wants to move forward without looking inward. 

That’s a mistake – and a disservice to the community that the board serves.

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