It’s appropriate that Schenectady school board members have to reboot their search for a new superintendent the week before Easter, since they’re learning the hard lessons of putting all their eggs in one basket.
On Friday, the district officials announced they were unable to reach a contract agreement with the one candidate they presented to the community for the open position, forcing them to quickly come up with another plan to find someone to lead the district during the transition back from the covid epidemic.
They’re in this predicament because they tried to take a short-cut, avoiding any real semblance of transparency or inclusion by narrowing the candidate list to one and not giving parents, taxpayers, local civic organizations and others much input into the selection process.
The superintendent of the local school district is not only usually the highest paid public official in a community, but also one of the most powerful, visible and influential.
Of all the functions a school board must perform, selecting the right person for this post is the most important.
It’s vital that any search casts the widest possible net to ensure a large and diverse field of candidates. It’s also vital that the community be included in all phases of the search and invited to have input into the final slate of candidates.
That’s not what happened this time, and as a result, the district enters its second year without a full-time superintendent.
All school districts face immense challenges, given the disruption caused by the covid epidemic that forced them to educate students remotely at times during the school year.
While the federal government helped alleviate some of the fiscal challenges with a massive financial aid package, all districts still must re-engage students and teachers, re-establish norms and get the educational mission back on track.
Schenectady schools face special challenges on top of it all to overcome poverty, poor attendance, low graduation rates and floundering test scores.
The district also has to restore trust and communication within the district and with the community.
District officials, staff and the acting superintendent did the best they could considering the circumstances over the past year.
But in order to move forward with a singular goal and message, the district needs long-term stability and guidance at the top. And it can’t achieve that by once again mismanaging the search for a new superintendent.
When the board meets Wednesday, members should be prepared to tell stakeholders what they plan to do differently and how they hope to make up for the way they handled the original search so we all aren’t left with a similar result. And the public must be prepared to participate and offer guidance.
Only an extensive, transparent and community-inclusive search will be acceptable this time.