District 97 has named a new superintendent. It could be argued there is no more important position in all of Oak Park.
Schools are usually cited as one of the main reasons people move to Oak Park (along with location and diversity). Good schools, as we've heard a million times, are key to maintaining high property values. And the quality of the schools begins at the top.
But we need more than a good superintendent. We need an excellent one. John Fagan was a good superintendent, and the result has been an above-average school district.
What does it take to be an excellent superintendent in Oak Park? That's what the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates tried to determine when they developed a list of 13 characteristics and asked various community members to rank them in order of importance. The list is a good one in case you never saw it:
? Ability to articulate the educational and financial needs of students to the general public, as well as those who establish the annual budgets, and keep the public informed effectively
? Ability to build and sustain a feeling of community within the district
? Ability to engage the district in a strategic planning process and develop, articulate and implement the mission of the district, particularly the objective to ensure that every child is successful
? Ability to work with a highly engaged and informed parent community
? An effective academic leader with a demonstrated record of accomplishment in the areas of curriculum innovation and instruction implementation and who has a successful history in closing the achievement gap
? Collaborative leadership style?#34;motivational, compassionate with personal integrity, effectively hearing, comprehending and incorporating stakeholder input to foster a sense of team
? Demonstrated experience as a successful superintendent in a multicultural environment and socio-economically diverse community who can engage and maintain good community relations with all stakeholders
? Demonstrates ability to attract highly qualified, diverse teachers and staff
? Influence/leadership in state and national organizations
? Innovative, forward-looking and expansive in scope to anticipate the need for change that inspires growth
? Inquisitive, stays abreast of research and best practices in all phases of the educational process, from early childhood development and special education to basic education curriculum development and instruction
? Outstanding management skills and business acumen to manage financial/fiscal matters, referenda, and labor relations/collective bargaining
? Strong administrative and management skills with ability to implement and objectively evaluate district goals and objectives, delegates effectively and holds individuals accountable for their respective responsibilities.
What would you choose as the top priority? More to the point, what would the new superintendent choose? If she answers, "all of the above," we're in business.
For my money (we all have money invested in this), closing the minority achievement gap should be our top priority as an educational community. But I'd settle for someone with a strong sense of mission, who isn't here to feather a resume but really believes in the community, recognizes this is an extraordinary challenge, and takes it on with energy and enthusiasm.
An extraordinary challenge demands an extraordinary superintendent. That's a tall order and a lot of pressure, but if we want more than an above-average school district, we need to have high expectations.
I also hope she's the kind of superintendent who doesn't just look at the community newspaper as an adversary, but understands we're all part of the solution.