Midnight Watch Edition:The Board of Education received Hazard Young Attea & Associates “Leadership Profile Tuesday evening. Consultants Deborah Raizes and Dr. John Whritner presented a 10-page report providing a concise, detailed mosaic of their 32 meetings with the White Plains community before 20 persons at Education House. The report draws a portrait of tje “Super Superintendent” they hope to woo to White Plains.
Deborah Raizes introduced the report to the Board of Education by saying that “the more we’ve met with your community, the more optimism we have for your district.”
She prefaced her presentation of the HYA report by saying, “John (Whritner) and I have been doing searches for four years. Never in the four years have we met with so many people. Your community is so interested in your schools.” She said this would be a very positive factor that she cannot wait to tell potential superintendents, and will attract excellent candidates to the district.
HAZARD YOUNG ATTEA CONSULTANTS DELIVER THEIR REPORT TO WHITE PLAINS: Dr. Deborah Raizes, center, and Dr. John Whritner, right, behind the podium Tuesday night, delivering their Leadership Profile sketching the kind of superintendent they would be searching for in the next six weeks. They targeted the end of March for presenting six candidates to the Board. At Left, is Michelle Schoenfeld, Clerk to the Board, whom the consultants thanked for her extraordinary help in presenting the report and liaison with the community. Susan Kirkpatric, Board member is at extreme left.
Consistency of How White Plains Thinks is Striking
Photo by WPCNR
Raizes said the report was organized based on identifying consistencies and that White Plains’ unity in understanding the strengths of the district was most unusual. She said that normally their reports in previous searchers have been much longer identifying a long list of individual comments, from a number of groups with few qualities mentioned very often. In White Plains, she said, “So much of what people (from diverse groups) have said is CONSISTENT.”
A diverse sampling agrees on what they like
Raizes said that she, Dr. Whritner, Dr. Diana McCauley and Maria Cabral spoke with 658 people, had meetings with Board Members, central office personnel, teachers, union leaders, administrators, realtors, parents, students, support staff, and city government officials.
Meetings at Centro Hispano and Bethel Baptist Church lured over 200 residents at each venue. She reported they had received 179 completed questionnaires asking for strengths, concerns, and characteristics persons would want to see in a superintendent. This vast raw comment produced widespread agreement on what persons saw as strengths of the district.
Raizes identified the strengths that were “consistent,” throughout the data they collected from all groups.
The strengths are: breadth of course offerings, dedicated staff, diversity of the student body and city, extensive offerings for student enrichment and extra-curricular programs, facilities and “long-standing” community support for schools, and human and financial resources.
Some individual groups targeted specific pluses: Teachers of the district said that Staff Development was a strength, and Support Staff singled out Student Assistance programs. Parents praised the School Choice program. The Community at large praised the District Administration and, again, School Choice.
Concerns for District Raised with Consensus
John Whritner took the podium next and echoed Raizes’ comments about how “unusual” the consistency of White Plains’ responses is, and complimented the city on its sense of “purpose.”
Whritner said this carried over into the Concerns they found in the sampling, and what the community wished for in a superintendent.
Whritner said the respondents and meeting comments said they lacked trust in the Board of Education. They expressed concern about “Bright Flight,” diversity of the student body and meeting state standards with a changing student body.
The veteran superintendent, said another consistent worry was that Non-English speaking population is increasing, “with 36% of the student body Hispanic, there was a need for additional and more appropriate programs.”
State Testing was singled out “across the board,” Whritner said both the pressure it puts on students and poor results. Public relations was faulted, with the feeling the district has failed to “toot its own horn,” about its strengths.
Unique Concerns with certain groups included the Board of Education having “increased expectations for all students,” the Administration’s concerns about morale and staff turnover. Teachers and Parents noted the addition of many new staff and the “large number” of new administrators. Support Staff was concerned about State and Federal mandates.
The Community (other than parents) indicated low test scores, need for parental involvement, safety, and holding tenured staff accountable as key concerns. Students expressed the concern that the Guidance Department was “overloaded.”
What Kind of Superintendent Does the Community want? A Charismatic, Proven Persuader-Leader
The Leadership Profile finds the same consistency in the kind of Leadership and style the community seeks in the next Superintendent, and the wish list reads like everyone’s idea of the “super superintendent.” The report summary is eloquent:
In looking at Criteria, there is a majority sense that the new CEO of the White Plains Public Schools should have successful experience as a superintendent, preferably in a district with a diverse population. This was an area of agreement between members of the Board and other respondent groups.
In looking at expertise, as might be expected, people are looking for someone who can resolve conflict and is a communicator. They seek someone adept at public relations.
Interestingly, representatives from the faculty, the Board and the community, spoke of the need for someone with classroom teaching experience. These groups also highlighted intelligence and a strong academic background as preferences. Community members also want someone who will hold the staff accountable.
In looking at style, respondents noted that they want someone who truly believes that all children should learn. All groups are desirous of a healer who can bring the community and the board back together. There is great support for having an educational leader who listens to others, is collaborative in style and is a “people person.”
Community and staff are united in seeking someone who is visible in the schools and in the community. All groups spoke of wanting someone who is approachable and personable and who can create a vision for the system and move everyone toward that vision.
Community rift over Yanofsky Departure seen at a “turning of the corner.”
Whritner commented in the report and his concluding remarks that the community feeling “wounded” over the Yanofsky affair was still there, but that he “sensed a turning of the corner,” that the persons they met were concentrating on the business of selecting a new superintendent. He said the community takes great pride in the district and its “success over the years,” and it is well-deserved . Whritner said he feels White Plains is “a very attractive place for a superintendent’s consideration.”
”Bright Flight” a Concern of Minorities and the Majority
He said the whole issue of “testing” raised concerns of minorities that given the resources, and high salaries of the teachers, that they should be doing better. By the same token, parents of bright students of both minorities and the white majority were concerned not enough was being done to challenge their students. He described this phenomenon as “Bright Flight.”
Ernest Prince, President of the Urban League of Westchester, asked if Whritner did not mean “White Flight,” instead of “Bright Flight.” Whritner answered that minority parents, as well as white parents expressed concern that they were thinking of taking their students out of the White Plains schools in the higher achieving classes because they did not think they were being challenged. Whritner said this was a concern of parents who worried that the balance of the district was being lost. So, Whritner said, he coined the term, “Bright Flight.”
Prince appeared impressed with this comment, and asked if Whritner meant seeking a goal of “the best program for all levels of the system.” Whritner agreed, pointing out that the Hispanic student coming to the district had to be able to have “a quick-in to the main stream.” Prince liked the answer saying to Whritner it was important that people realize that “We (minority groups) are not talking about lowering the floor, but raising the bar.”
Candidates to remain a mystery until last possible moment
Donna McLaughlin, President of the Board of Education, expressed lament about the candidates possibly not being revealed to the community sooner rather than later. She asked the consultants if other districts were going down this road that Hazard Young recommends, (withholding identity of candidates).
Raizes said, “:more and more, nobody likes it. We are just finishing Fairfield and Bloomfield, Connecticut and have gotten really quality slates. It’s possible (they might agree to publicity), but they might not. You may lose some great people. Some (candidates) won’t even fill out an application.”
A feeling of a beginning
After just 35 minutes, the meeting ended and broke up with a pleasant atmosphere of discussion among the twenty parents and one reporter on hand. Most appeared quite impressed by the breadth of concerns and depth of detail the report presented. There was no comment from the Board of Education about the report, but another WPCNR operative attending said she had asked a Board member why they had not commented, and they had replied that they had received the report last Friday and discussed it with the consultants at that time. Our colleague added that the Board member said they expected to be coached by the consultants as to how to interview the candidates presented.
The Search is On.
Dr. Whritner, speaking to WPCNR after the meeting said three or four superintendents had been contacted already for leads on possible interested superintendents. He said that William Attea, a partner in HYA was President of the Suburban School Superintendents Assocation, an organization of 100 superintendents, which he felt may provide some strong leads. He reports that HYA representatives will be going to the School Adminstrators Association convention in San Diego, armed with the Raizes Whritner report and will be scouting for candidates. Whritner said he would be available to comment on the progress of the search to WPCNR throughout the process.
Raizes, a “get-it-done doer” if this reporter has ever seen one, earlier expressed the most optimism, saying, “the superintendents we will be contacting are very happy where they are. That’s why we’re headhunters. We’re on the more aggressive side. We will keep working on them. They took our phone call, and that’s a yes.”