We’re pleased that Memphis City Schools has finally done what makes sense in finding a new superintendent. It began a national search.

It didn’t come without missteps and personal agendas, but at least it’s finally come. Of course, it remains to be proven that the process headed up by a national search firm isn’t going to be sabotaged by the board of commissioners’ low expectations and preconceived notions about the race, gender and zip code of the next superintendent.

To kick off the search process, the district – apparently at the direction of its search firm – posted a survey on its website to allow us to vote on the 32 qualities that we want in a new superintendent. The qualities range from the inane and irrelevant to the noble and the laudatory, but by and large, concentrating on personal qualities seems the wrong thing to focus on. After all, who really can disagree with any of these qualities?

To The Point

There’s no indication on the website about how the results of the poll will be used. The day after it went live, we learned from The Commercial Appeal that we were supposed to be selecting 10 qualities in the online poll. The website didn’t mention that fact for a couple of days, and even now, you can still vote for all 32 qualities if you like.

That said, at this point, we’re really not interested in whether the new superintendent inspires trust, is a good speaker, is cooperative, is able to delegate authority, possesses excellent people skills, possesses media skills, can develop strong relationships with the business community and has sound management experience.

More to the point, we think we should first be deciding as a community what our priorities are for our district. Then, we can align skills and experience of superintendent candidates to match those priorities.

Talk Priorities

That’s why it seems to us that we don’t need to be talking about qualities, but talking about priorities. It’s always seemed strange to us that in the midst of our current educational crisis – more than 100 schools that don’t meet state benchmarks, the poorest performance of the urban districts in Tennessee and overall declining academic performance – we still have no sense of what the district’s priorities are.

Here’s a couple of ours – decentralizing decision-making so that the central office is all about supporting schools rather than the other way around, and creating a system where schools are teacher-centered and data-driven.

So, here’s our question of the week:

What are the priorities for Memphis City School that should guide the search for a new superintendent?