This morning, the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees met for a second round of interviews with its two superintendent finalists.
The candidates are Dr. Phillip Hickman, a Missouri native, who is currently an area assistant superintendent in Houston, Texas, and Dr. David Fonseca, interim superintendent for Watauga County Schools in Boone, N.C.
From the stakeholders’ point of view, it is difficult to determine which candidate is best-suited for the position. As is its common practice, the board has chosen to limit the public’s role in this critical decision.
It was not until Tuesday evening that the public was informed of the identity of the two finalists. Approximately 150 people came to Joe Cook Elementary School to learn of the finalists and listened as both candidates fielded the same questions submitted anonymously by the audience. Those who attended were encouraged to share their impressions of the candidates by filling out a form and turning it in at the close of the meeting, which lasted about an hour-and-a-half.
In theory, those responses were to be considered by the board prior to making their decision, but it is unlikely those results were given much scrutiny, since the board met to decide the issue roughly 12 hours after the close of the public meeting.
The questions posed to the candidates were relevant, as far as it goes. In fact, the questions themselves were far more revealing of the state of our schools than the answers. The questions spoke of a divided community, a community that has lost faith in its school system and is weary of a school board that has betrayed the public trust through its practice of petty, personal politics and secrecy.
But what was missing in the process was a real opportunity for parents, students, teachers, staff and regular citizens to do their own research of the candidates. Even today, we know only what the candidates chose to say about their backgrounds. We do not know what issues, challenges, successes, failures or controversies either candidate faced in their current roles or any way of knowing how successful either has been in their jobs.
Both candidates responded to audience questions in general terms, so it is difficult to know if they have a clear grasp of the challenges unique to Columbus schools.
Even so, both candidates hit on themes that we believe are critically important in repairing a school system that is broken in many meaningful ways.
Both candidates acknowledged that one of the key factors in rebuilding the community’s trust in the school system is through transparency.
Both candidates said they will rely heavily on establishing a good working relationship with the school board and pointed out that these relationships take time, that trust has to be established between the two parties.
Both men also stressed the importance of educating the “whole student” by making sure all children have access to art, sports, music and other extracurricular activities that help a student develop not only academically but emotionally and socially.
We wish the new superintendent every success and urge the community to welcome and support him in this great challenge.
We hope that his commitment to transparency, accountability, trust-building and setting and attaining goals is something that will be demonstrated by his actions.
Our optimism is guarded, understandable given what has transpired over the past few years.
We stand ready to believe. We just need a reason.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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