School leaders continue debate on principal policy

Jan. 07, 2013 @ 09:30 PM

It may be a fresh start for a proposed revision to the Durham Public Schools principal selection process, but no change seems apparent for arguments for or against it.
“I don’t get it,” said Natalie Beyer, a Board of Education member among those convened for Monday’s instructional services committee meeting. “I want to get it. I don’t get it.”
The current selection policy language calls for the formation of a school-based selection committee that gets to interview potential candidates who want to be a school principal and then make non-ranked recommendations to the superintendent.
That policy also makes it clear that the superintendent can disregard those recommendations, choose a different candidate or, as necessary, fill a principal’s position without forming a committee.
The revised policy would change language so that the school group would be called a feedback committee (rather than “selection”) that meets with candidates (rather than “interviews”).
Ann Rebeck, representing Durham People’s Alliance, said during public comment at the meeting that the policy currently in place is “democratic and empowers the school community.”
But that sense of empowerment is mostly an illusion, said board member Nancy Cox.
“The reality is that we have folks [in] the community who think that they have some ultimate power that we’re trying to wrestle away from them,” she said. “They don’t have that power, because any time, the superintendent can set their recommendations aside.”
Beyer countered that the proposed revision risked disenfranchisement of Durham school supporters.
“We still struggle with wanting to improve the policy and I’m feeling like it takes us so far from what the Durham community expects and feels empowered by,” Beyer said.
Heidi Carter, board chair, reasoned that no matter what DPS calls the committee that meets with the candidates, they’re liable to provide their feedback in the form of recommendations as is practiced with selection committees under the current policy.
Board member Leigh Bordley agreed: “How do I meet with three people without reaching an opinion about who I thought was best?”
Superintendent Eric Becoats justified the moved toward “feedback” as opposed to “selection” by describing a scenario in which a school committee made recommendations, Becoats picked one of their candidates and then people from that committee came to him within six to nine months to complain about the new principal.
“They were asking me what I was going to do about it,” he said.
Beyer urged the administration to stick with the current policy, with the addition of non-disclosure agreements that committee members must sign.
“Give this messy democracy time to work,” she said.
During that time, though, a school would be without a principal, Becoats said.
But the same would be true under either policy, Carter noted.
Board members voted unanimously to send the policy to the full board meeting on Jan. 26 for further discussion. However, it may return to committee at least one more time before a final vote.
In other committee action:
--Board members voted unanimously to put a new item on the agenda for their special meeting this Thursday at 4 p.m. The state of North Carolina waived the requirement for all state-mandated exams to be worth 25 percent of a student’s final grade for this year. With some exams scheduled for the end of this week, the board needs to pick a value for those tests. Durham school principals recommend between 15 percent and 20 percent, so that students take them seriously but don’t take as big a hit if the new Common Core-based tests prove more challenging than past exams.
--Along those same lines, board members agreed to consider suspension of a state graduation requirement that states students must pass end-of-course exams with a Level III or IV to graduate. This is due largely to the fact that the state Department of Public Instruction is not providing re-test options for this year. This proposal should be on the Jan. 26 board meeting agenda.

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