Greetings to all my new friends and neighbors. Thank you for welcoming my family to this wonderful community. These past two months have been a whirlwind, to be sure, but I think we are off to a flying start.
It is relatively common practice for new superintendents to begin work on July 1, coinciding with the advent of a new school year. At first, I was slightly concerned about starting this job on April 1, and wondered how that might play out logistically in terms of planning and decision-making. However, as I start to get settled into the role, I am now thinking the April start date was rather advantageous.
Experience has taught me that before any significant planning and decision-making can take place, I will need to devote a considerable amount of time to listening and questioning. That has been, and will continue to be, my primary focus.
To that end, I have been touring our schools, meeting with teachers and principals, talking with students and parents, participating in media interviews, pouring through data, soaking up the history and trying to get a handle on the hot topics that are important to our community.
This crash course in Chapel Hill-Carrboro culture, has been both interesting and enlightening. Every day brings an energizing “a-ha” experience. I am eager to continue.
While I obviously have a long way to go, there are a handful of trends that I have already noticed as I make my rounds. These have been very easy to spot, and I want to share a few now.
First, I have no words to describe how impressed I am by the compassion to help one another … particularly our most vulnerable children and families. I cannot count how many people have mentioned the need to ensure EVERY child succeeds. That has been my mantra, and I came prepared to rally the troops to get public buy in. However, this community is already on board. Equity is clearly a common priority, and that will ensure our work brings life-altering impact.
Next, we have amazing educators, starting with our school principals. They are quite savvy. I get the impression they have mastered that tricky balance between casting vision and leading implementation. Too much of one, and not enough of the other, results in either stagnation or frustration on the part of their employees. This is a group that really understands that challenge.
Our teachers are innovators. They inspire students to think both more and differently. They understand their mission and come to work prepared. They work well into the evenings, utilizing data to meet the specific needs of their students. True professionals.
Additionally, never have I seen a central office collaborate as effectively as this group I have inherited. They truly enjoy working together and encouraging one another. When I walk through Lincoln Center, I hear laughter, but also intense professional discussions. They welcome new challenges and readily acknowledge their role in ensuring the success of our schools. Refreshing indeed.
Another trend I have noticed is the immeasurable community support offered to our schools. I feel like this community has truly adopted its schools. What a great feeling for a new leader! From the PTA Council to the Public School Foundation to the Chamber of Commerce to the local businesses, nonprofits, university staff and faith communities, everyone is invested in the triumph of our students.
Our parents put in more collective time and energy than any I have ever known. The Volunteer Office is hitting home runs with their recruiting, training and placing of talented and dedicated helpers. Our partnerships are producing tangible, measurable results.
All of this sounds very positive, and it should, but I also recognize we have many issues needing to be addressed. We have crumbling buildings, new staff in key positions, legislative challenges, and a teacher shortage that is impacting schools nationally. However, the single biggest problem is the disparity in performance among the different groups of children. Once EVERY student reaches her/his potential, then we can celebrate. Until then, we will roll up the sleeves and dig in.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.
Pam Baldwin is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. We invite your response to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org for possible publication in a future issue.