A good no-call

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 04:15 PM

Kenny Rogers, the country singer, gained his greatest fame years ago singing “The Gambler.”

"You got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em,” he sang. “"Know when to walk away; know when to run.”

Often, that’s sound advice. And it seems to be what the Durham Public Schools Board of Education heeded this week when it gently put to rest a proposal to change the way the public was involved in selecting school principals.

The kerfuffle began last fall when school officials proposed changing the role of community committees that include faculty, staff and parents. They have been called “selection committees,” and they conduct fairly formal interviews with principal candidates and then recommend one or more to the superintendent.

Over the months, school officials put forward several variations of the policy, at first proposing to eliminate the committees altogether, then recasting the policy to make them “feedback committees.” Under that iteration, the committee’s role would be much less formal.

“It’s not an interview,” Superintendent Eric Becoats said in describing that idea. “It’s more of a conversation and then providing feedback to the administration. … They’re providing feedback, not selecting the candidate.”

Community indignation greeted the revised proposals, as parents and teachers objected to the less definitive role.

In the end, much of the debate seemed a bit overheated – the policy never was as encompassing as the name “selection committee” might have provided, so the actual change in roles was less than it might first appear.

As board attorney Ken Soo pointed out during one of the board’s discussions, under the new policy “there’s nothing that would make the committee’s recommendation binding” – nor was there anything in the current policy.
Under the proposed revisions as well as under the policy that remains unchanged, the ultimate responsibility for choosing principals lies with the board and with the superintendent.

That’s as it should be. They’re accountable for the success of the schools, and building leadership is critical in achieving success.

At the same time, community feedback and advice are important – parents, faculty and staff are more likely to embrace that leadership if they have a hand in its selection.

In the end, while we think the policy revisions might have helped to clarify the process and more accurately describe expectations, the board was wise to know when to fold its hand on this one.