A shining moment for school board

Published 9:15 am Friday, September 19, 2008

As Howie Soucek, whose views on public education we respect, states so eloquently elsewhere on this page, the Franklin School Board deserves much credit for its solicitation of public input on the search for a new city school superintendent.

After an unnecessarily slow start to the search for Bill Pruett’s successor, the school board is pressing all the right buttons.

The board’s commitment to hearing from citizens about the qualities they want in a new superintendent is refreshing. First was a written survey, followed by a public forum Tuesday night at City Hall.

Attendance was disappointingly low despite terrific promotion of the forum by the school division, but the quality of the feedback from the 20 or so people in attendance was outstanding.

The possibility exists, of course, that the survey and forum were simply for show — and that the school board will do what it wants, regardless of public opinion, when selection time arrives. That would be consistent with a history of top-heavy decision-making in the schools — and at City Hall generally.

It’s our sense, though, that the school board is genuinely interested in getting the public’s input and will value that feedback in sizing up what is likely to be a large and impressive field of candidates to lead our city’s schools.

A consistent theme at Tuesday’s forum was the need for a superintendent who makes his home in this community and gets personally invested in the success of both the school division and the city. That’s especially important after two years of ineffective leadership from Pruett, who gave our schools part-time service while drawing a full-time salary. Our city’s public schools need a leader who is focused entirely on educating the children of Franklin, not lobbying lawmakers in Richmond.

The residency requirement that many seek for the superintendent’s position is more than symbolic. It goes to the heart of the dedication and loyalty required for one to be successful in the job. Local residency should mean more than establishing a mailing address or renting an apartment to stay in during the week before shuttling back to Norfolk, Richmond or Northern Virginia on the weekend to be with a wife and kids who have no plans to move here.

The school board has learned a lot, we believe, from the failed Pruett experiment and is poised to hire a first-rate leader for Franklin City Schools. The early signs are extremely encouraging.