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Harford superintendent search warrants more attention [Editorial]

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Such is the nature of Internet culture that when the general public has the opportunity to weigh in on what qualities a new superintendent of schools for Harford County are most important, the results are being collected and tabulated by a website with the unlikely name Surveymonkey.com.

It would almost be worth it for the firm behind the service to have used the name classclown.com for school related surveys.(Google says the domain is available, by the way.)

Possibly the convenience of filling out a survey on the Internet is the reason for what certainly comes across as an extreme level of public apathy on the selection of the next superintendent, as demonstrated by a recent public meeting on the subject. (Actually, Surveymonkey.com is a fairly respected operation when it comes to putting these things together and is actually employed on occasion by this newspaper's parent company.)

Ray and Associates of Iowa (note the more traditional consulting firm name) has been contracted by Harford County Public Schools to seek out thoughts from the general public on what qualities a new superintendent should possess.

Ray and Associates organized a public session on the subject earlier this month where a single person showed up to answer the question: "What makes for a good superintendent for Harford County Public Schools?"

That individual, Kyle Dixon, a substitute teacher, is to be commended for his interest and the thought put into the subject at hand. But one person's thoughts does not a public consensus make.

Moreover, the online opportunity for public input is rather limited. It lists 33 qualities, all of which would be desirable in a superintendent, and most of which would be desirable in a friend. The challenge to survey takers is to identify the 10 most important of these traits.

There is then an opportunity for each survey taker to answer what amounts to an essay question on what you'd be looking for in a new superintendent.

The reality is, Harford County Public Schools is a massive operation at a crossroads. Many years of enrollment growth long ago leveled off, and the number of students enrolled has been slowly, but measurably, dropping for the past decade. Whereas the challenge to superintendents in the 1970s and 1980s was one of making sure there was adequate room for academics while new schools were being built, the challenge for superintendents in the next several years may well be one of how to close or consolidate schools without disrupting communities or the learning process.

Generalities relating to being a good listener or a competent mediator are nice qualities to talk about, but a school system is a $450 million-a-year operation that is both one of the county's largest employers and the producer of far and away its most important product: our children's preparedness for life.

Not only should there be a good deal more public interest in the selection of the person who'll be overseeing the operation, but also those charged with making the final call, namely the members of the Board of Education, should be taking a bit more of a hard-nosed approach to the search.

A public hearing attended by just one of the county's 240,000 residents and an online prioritizing of 33 good qualities just doesn't cut it.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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