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Headless in Beantown

By Alexander Russo | September 2006
Boston Public Schools is still looking for a new leader.
Boston Public Schools is still looking for a new leader.

Whoever wants to run the Boston Public Schools, please raise your hand. Even though former Superintendent Tom Payzant announced his retirement more than a year ago, in June 2005, the city's search committee recently announced that a permanent successor wouldn't be named until at least January 2007.

The position would seem to be near perfect. The medium-size urban district, which has 58,000 students and 145 schools, has enjoyed a lengthy period of stability and success over the past decade. The board-appointed by the mayor-worked well with Payzant, and the district is well regarded for a number of education innovations.

So why can't they find a replacement? Blame the media. In late June, the Boston Globe unexpectedly-and some would say prematurely-published the names of five possible finalists for the superintendent's job, creating a political firestorm. Four of the five candidates who were named quickly withdrew or denied ever having sought the job, leaving only one of the original candidates-Nancy McGinley, chief academic officer in Charleston County, South Carolina-in the running.

That led to an intense round of local and national debate about whether an open selection process can work anymore. Back in 1995, the school board put finalists through a public interview process in which they met with community groups. Now increasingly uncommon, open hiring processes can be extremely awkward for candidates who currently run other districts or who wish to avoid having the public find out that they want a job they may not get.

Besides the public disclosure fiasco, other factors appear to be contributing to the delay. The district's stability, ironically, may contribute to making the selection process so difficult. Who wants to fill a slot in which its reputation can only go down? Also, Payzant never apparently groomed a successor. Michael Contompasis is serving as interim superintendent until a replacement is named. Interested? You can find out more at boston.k12.ma.us/suptSearch/default.asp.

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