Commentary: School superintendent decision vital to Antioch’s future

By John Crowder

Today, Monday, March 14, Leadership Associates, the search firm hired by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) to conduct the search for a new superintendent for AUSD, will be at the Antioch Water Park in Prewett Park, available to obtain input from the public regarding the, “qualities, characteristics, background, and experience” that Antioch residents believe are important for the person eventually filling that role to have.  On Tuesday, March 15, they will be at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center, as well.

Everyone residing in Antioch has a vital interest in this decision.  One reason is the relationship between economic development and the local public schools.   This relationship was highlighted at a meeting of the Antioch City Council almost a year-and-a-half ago.  At that meeting, which took place on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, Richard Loewke, the consultant hired by the city to, among other things, determine what impediments were working against economic development in Antioch, stated, “Employers and employees with children who can afford to do so tend to look outside of Antioch in order to gain access to better performing public schools.”

As go the schools, so goes the town.  If Antioch is ever to make serious headway in economic development, it’s critical that the schools perform well.  No CEO of a technology firm, or any high-wage business, for that matter, is going to locate their business in a town where the schools aren’t performing well.  The schools in Antioch have been performing poorly for years…and if we don’t obtain a superintendent with the qualities needed to turn things around, we can look forward to another decade of their continued decline…and with them, the continued decline of our city.

Most school districts, including Antioch, tend to look for someone from within the education establishment to fill the role of superintendent.  The successful candidate frequently has a doctorate in education, and has been immersed in public education in one administrative role or another for many years…often, it’s all they’ve ever known.  We’ve tried that, and it hasn’t worked.  I suggest a different approach…find someone who is not subject to the same groupthink that typically plagues troubled organizations.  While it’s possible that someone from within the education establishment may be able to get the job done, we shouldn’t limit our search.  We need to also look outside the establishment, to the business, and or private school community.  What we need is, in business parlance, a turn-around expert.

Beyond that, the new superintendent must possess certain core behavioral skills.  Foremost among these is honesty.    The new superintendent must be willing to level with the public.  Too often, the public gets only ‘spin,’ an attempt to make bad news sound good, or to change the focus to a topic that is irrelevant.Our new superintendent must have the ability to say, “Yes, our test scores are horrible, and here is what we are going to do to turn that around.”

Second, the new superintendent must be decisive.  I’ve seen, first-hand, both middle and high school students in AUSD that can’t do basic arithmetic.  They can’t write a simple paragraph.  These students have no chance at successfully passing a rigorous algebra course, or even to write a decent college entrance essay.  Yet, instead of meeting the students where they really are academically, they continue to be moved forward.  Unable to do the work required at the next level, or even to understand what the teacher is talking about, many give up.  For most of these students, this woeful circumstance could be turned around.  But that will only happen if the administration is honest with parents about how far behind their children are, and then takes decisive action to ensure they are taught the basic skills they need in order to be able to do more advanced work…regardless of the grade level they are currently in.

Third, the new superintendent must be fearless.  I’m convinced that one of the reasons that parents aren’t informed about the lack of skills their children have, or that, when uncovered, we’re presented with excuses, is the fear of lawsuits.  When fear is the driving factor, though, it paralyzes the decision maker.  It prevents leaders from taking the decisive action needed to turn things around; from stepping up and doing what needs to be done.  In the meantime, our children continue to move through the system, unprepared for either college, or any meaningful career.

It’s become almost a favorite pastime to bash Antioch for high crime, lack of economic development, and low-performing schools.  Here, we have a chance to not just gripe, but to do something about it.  I encourage everyone interested in seeing Antioch succeed to attend these meetings, to speak or write to the school board, to talk with your neighbors and get them involved in the superintendent selection process.  Tell them you want the schools led by someone with the characteristics needed to ensure positive change: Honesty, Decisiveness, and Fearlessness.  Tell them you want someone not focused on getting by a couple of years, and padding their pension, but to consider hiring someone from the outside, from the business or private school setting, who will get the job done and not keep handing out excuses.  Our city, and certainly, our children need us.  Let’s not let them down.

Crowder is a former teacher in Antioch public and private schools, as well as administrator of a private school. He currently operates the Math Intensive program at Deer Valley High School.

One Comment to “Commentary: School superintendent decision vital to Antioch’s future”

  1. Arrieanna Lombard says:

    Mr. Crowder hit the nail on the head, he’s absolutely correct. In my 20+ years as a former Real Estate Appraiser, having appraised in many counties (SF, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda, and Contra Costa), one of the things I found common among all…was the impact a great school district had on home values and the demand for housing in certain areas. Many families sought out home purchases in certain areas solely for a particular school district. We MUST find a candidate who can turn our failing district around.

    Arrieanna Lombard

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