Modesto City Schools board members have retained an outside adviser as they begin their search for a new school superintendent.
We think that's a good move.
The seven trustees have limited to no experience in hiring a superintendent and have only been together in their current makeup since December.
A few weeks ago, in their first public discussion of how to replace Arturo Flores, trustees had all sorts of ideas and priorities -- some contradictory -- on how to proceed.
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To provide this initial guidance, the board unanimously selected Walt Hanline, the recently retired superintendent of the Ceres Unified School District, who has started a consulting business. Hanline said he's not interested in actually conducting the search, only in helping the board firm up its vision.
Hanline is a strong leader who has attracted much praise -- and some criticism. But he's been a student of leadership styles, and in Ceres strongly urged trustees to get training as board members and in school governance. That training enabled people with disparate views to learn to work together.
He and the Modesto board are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning, first in public and then in private. As the process rolls along, we believe as much discussion as possible should be held out in the open. But one of the first decisions that must be made is whether board members believe they have capable people inside the district or whether they need to look outside. That's the kind of personnel review that legitimately should be done behind closed doors.
Before the board establishes the details of the search, the members need to reach consensus on some important philosophical points, such as defining what characteristics are most important in the district's next superintendent.
The board also needs to spell out how much community input it wants where in the process it wants it. And how will that input be gathered? By whom and from whom?
Modesto City Schools is a large and dynamic district. Its challenges with money, test scores and declining enrollment are not unique, and we don't believe they will deter capable people from wanting the superintendent's job.
As we've said before, the district benefits from a good reputation, many fine staff members and a community that recognizes the need to overcome its chronic low education levels. Thus, this is a good opportunity.
The district is paying Hanline $100 per hour, which may seem like a lot. But considering the importance of finding the right person to lead a school system with a budget of more than $200 million, we don't think it's an extravagant sum. In fact, we consider this a good long-term investment.
If the board members clearly define what they want and need in a superintendent and show their ability to work together -- in other words, to be strong leaders themselves -- they'll be well positioned to fill this critical position at the top.