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JCPS Board seeking proven track record in next superintendent

by Joe Arnold


Posted on March 7, 2011 at 5:51 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 7 at 6:32 PM

The next Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent must have experience and demonstrated success in handling the challenges of a large, urban district, according to requirements discussed today by the Board of Education.

The brainstorming and scheduling session with a search consultant marks the first major step toward choosing a new superintendent.

"We want somebody who's done it before," remarked Board President Steve Imhoffe, "not just in the last ten years, but in the last three or four years in this climate, this educational climate around the country with No Child Left Behind."

In a summary of its criteria, the board said the next superintendent should be a leader, a relationship builder with experience managing an urban district with low-performing schools, and someone committed to equity and excellence and to student assignment.

Impatient with a lack of progress in student achievement and the implementation of the controversial student assignment plan, last fall, the board decided not to renew the contract of Superintendent Sheldon Berman.

JCPS has about 99,000 students in 155 schools.  Berman was hired in 2007 from a less diverse district  in Massachusetts with about three percent of the enrollment of JCPS.

Led by a search team consultant, board members expressed a preference for proven experience rather than a candidate who simply has the academic background.  A doctorate would not necessarily be a prerequisite, board members suggested during the brainstorming session. 

It was also suggested that Berman's successor be adept in public relations and in building consensus among disparate groups.

"You can see we have schools that need a lot of help," said Board Member Carol Haddad, "And everybody has to work together to make it happen.  And I don't see that happening right now."

"(Berman is)  not an operational person," Haddad continued, "He's a visionary and he can see the whole picture, he can tell you what to do, but he hasn't been in there, he's not the implementer that we need in this district."

Key dates in JCPS Superintendent search:

  • March 21 - week of public meetings between team of consultants and stakeholder groups to seek community criteria "giving their ideas and information about what they are looking for in a new superintendent," said consultant Tom Jacobsen.


  • April 11 - the JCPS Board hears a summary of the community input.


  • May 17 - The search is closed to candidates.


  • June 1 - Board gets the secret "short list" of the top candidates, and is asked to name the finalists. 

  • June 20-24 - Public interviews of finalists


  • June 30 - Berman's contract ends

  • July 1 - Board's goal to name a new superintendent, though an interim superintendent could also be named, according to JCPS Board President Steve Imhoffe.

"As far as I'm concerned, (Berman) was capable of doing it," Imhoffe said, "We don't need to talk about getting somebody that might do something.  I think most of the board agrees, we need somebody that has done it."

In its decision not to renew Berman's contract, the board concluded Berman was not acting urgently enough addressing the district's problems.  So, even though the search process looks similar to the one that hired Berman, "four years ago, it wasn't the emergency that it is today." Imhoffe said.  Imhoffe is one of two board members who voted to retain Berman.

"It's going to be very critical to move quickly here," consultant Tom Jacobsen said, "You're going to be competing with Atlanta which is open right now but is not as far along as Jefferson County is, Seattle's superintendent just resigned this past week and those are going to be districts that are competitors for this district."

To widen the pool of candidates, the search is considering not requiring a doctorate degree and perhaps hiring an assistant superintendent from a larger district.

"It's very possible," Imhoffe said, "I don't recall last time getting many assistant superintendents that applied. But we might have more this year, this time."