The Highland Park School Board President Adam Sherman, fulfilling a board promise to carry out a transparent and responsive search for the new school superintendent, issued his second letter to the community with updates on the search process. In the letter, Mr. Sherman noted that the search is on schedule for a mid-July (week of July 13) appointment. Interviews with potential candidates are about to begin and will take up most of the month of June.
Board members currently are reviewing the comments from the hundreds of community members who took the time to fill out the candidate profile survey and/or to give their comments at the Community meetings. The board has received 21 applications for the position. Eight of the candidates are current superintendents; eight are assistant superintendents or equivalent; one is a supervisor; two are directors; and two are principals.
The Highland Park School District Leadership Profile Report summarizes the comments and observations from various school and community meetings as well as the interviews in a Leadership Profile Report conducted by the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates. It can be found on the school district web site.
The executive summary presents a comprehensive picture of the residents’ perceptions of the district – its strengths and weaknesses.
According to the executive summary, the constituent community members of Highland Park are generally proud of their school district. The educational program is viewed as one that provides multiple opportunities that are not often found in a district of its size. The educational program is viewed as soundly based in a core curriculum, arts programs, and specialized programs. High school graduates attend a variety of post-secondary collegiate programs and/or move forward to careers of their choice. Frequent mention was made of the dedication of the professional staff and their relationships with their students. Several references were made to teachers and building administrators that went “above and beyond” in assuring the academic needs of students were met regardless of grade level and/or achievement level. The fact that many professional staff members live within the community also sparked references to interests that went beyond the school district.
Students were pleased to acknowledge the presence of their teachers and building administrators in other aspects of their lives (the arts, sports, mentoring, etc.) as well as in the classrooms. The constituent community is proud of its diversity and “close knit” nature. Constituent community members define their diversity between and among a variety of cultures, a variety of life style preferences, a variety of socio-economic levels, and a variety of achievement levels of students. Several references were made to families “taking care of each other” and the common practice of partnering for participation in community events and organizations requiring parental/adult guidance. Constituent community members are looking forward to a resurgence in a positive relationship with the school district in terms of transparency and improved communication.
There is a broad-based concern that the process of finding excellent candidates for the open superintendency has been tarnished by the publicity and facts surrounding the shortened tenure of the most recent past Superintendent. Community constituents want to be assured that prospective candidates are carefully and accurately vetted to assure the legitimacy of credentials as well as past performance. There is an equal concern that the stability of District leadership may be compromised by the fact that current New Jersey statutes limit the compensation permitted for school Superintendents based on student enrollment. A number of community constituents referenced a lack of consistent operational systems within the school district. While policies may exist to guide operational systems, the inconsistent application of those policies and/or necessary attention to update or add to those policies has negatively affected district operation. Operational areas of inconsistency and/or in need of updating include, but are not limited to, budget prioritization, development of school-based scheduling that maximizes utilization of human resources, student discipline procedures, student placement in classes and concomitant direction toward those placements. Community constituents expressed a concern about student preparedness for post-secondary experiences including extended educational opportunities and entry level career readiness. Those concerns were somewhat dichotomous ranging from a preference for more specific curriculum changes (i.e. secondary science, World languages, Special Education, challenging elective offerings, etc.), to soundly defining and addressing an obvious achievement gap, to regularly reviewing curriculum to insure its relevance to the 21st Century. Community constituents expressed the need for consistent and relevant professional development for all staff members. While building leadership and professional staff members are often viewed as talented and “holding a strong educational program together,” the lack of professional development linked specifically to a long range plan for teaching and learning, to an effective approach in addressing a variety of achievement levels, as well as utilizing the skills of talented staff, inhibits forward movement of the district. Finally, there is a deep concern that some issues presented by the diversity of the district are not being adequately addressed and/or articulated by the school district. More specifically, equity in student placements and opportunities for participation in school-based activities, school discipline and suspension rates, addressing the achievement gap, insuring legally mandated services are provided for students, and developing increased partnerships with private school community constituents were most frequent among those concerns. The Highland Park School District has had to effectively manage a budget affected by increases in state/federal mandates and a two percent budget increase cap. Community constituents expressed a concern about increased tax rates that often cause administration to make critical decisions affecting programs and staff. They also expressed concern that the budget process be more clearly defined and presented to enhance understanding of spending trends and priorities as well as tax rates. Community constituents prefer that the new Superintendent be able to develop a collaborative working relationship with them and the Board of Education in modifying and implementing a budget that supports clear vision for the forward movement of the district. Above all, the community constituents prefer fairly and equitably distributed district resources to meet the needs of all students.
The new Superintendent will need to be humble, accessible, and focused on developing a renewed partnership with the constituent community that is systems driven, student centered, and participatory. The new Superintendent will need to clearly define diversity through previous evidence based experiences and be able to apply what has been experienced to anticipated work in Highland Park. The new Superintendent will need to develop, re-develop, and properly adjust sound working and participatory relationships between and among community constituents groups. The new Superintendent will need to be adaptable in developing a professional presence that is demonstrated through visibility, and in developing systems of professional growth that are practical and relational to work to be accomplished by the staff for the students. The new Superintendent will need to build upon established partnerships and develop new partnerships that programmatically and financially assist the district in providing opportunities for student achievement and enrichment. Finally, the new Superintendent will need to provide evidence of the practice of openness, honesty, and integrity that shall become the common denominator of working with the Highland Park Central Office.