Superintendent Finalists Meet The Public

Apr 12, 2012

It was a long day yesterday for the three CMS superintendent finalists. In the morning, they visited some schools. In the afternoon, they rotated through a series of forums in three locations Uptown. And last night, they all participated in a forum at Northwest School for the Arts. This report tracks when the three candidates visited the Government Center in the afternoon. 

One thing is evident: Each candidate is distinctly different from the other, not only in approach to leading, but also in demeanor. Ann Clark, the current CMS Chief Academic Officer, was a bit reserved as she addressed the panelists and audience. But her experience in the system allowed her to drill down to specifics pretty quickly. "We don't want school house to jail house. We want school room to board room."

"One of the things we also have to do, is we have to push our focus on pushing the ceiling," said Clark. "For the last decade, Charlotte has focused on raising the floor in terms of our student achievement in focusing many of our resources--time, people and money-on our low-performing schools."

On the other hand, Kriner Cash, the superintendent of Memphis City Schools, was very expressive-occasionally rapping on the podium to make a point. He offered a handful of catch phrases like, "We don't want school house to jail house. We want school room to board room."

And he often incited audible agreements from the audience, such as when he spoke of his parents' influence. "Mom would say, 'Put a high price tag on yourself and never go on sale,'" says Kriner. "Now, I live that, but where it's important in my leadership style is I want children to believe that. And I want us to never sell them cheap, never put them on clearance."

And finally, Heath Morrison, the superintendent in Reno, Nevada, appeared excited to answer questions. No pausing, no deliberation. This was Morrison's response after a panelist who asked him how he has dealt with the politics of the position. "I used to say to aspiring superintendents and new superintendents, 'Hey, 90 percent of this job is political,'" he said. "I was off by about 9.9 percent. It's 99.9 percent political. It is building political capital, so that you can do bold things on the behalf of children. And what I mean is, if the public doesn't trust us that we can do the small things, then why would they think that we could do the big things at scale to better serve children?"

Today the candidates are visiting more schools, lunching with education officials and elected representatives, and doing one-on-one interviews with the Board of Education. The Board is expected to make a decision in early May.