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News Opinion Op-Eds

Baltimore looks for a new schools chief

Note: This op-ed has been updated to correct the contact information for search consultant Ray and Associates. 

One of the most important opportunities before Baltimore is attracting the next chief executive officer to lead the city school system and its community partners in our shared goals of raising academic achievement for all students and expanding access to high-quality school programs in every area of the city and every grade level.

We must continue to accelerate the school district's progress toward our vision that every student will graduate well-prepared for success in higher education and the workforce. There is much more to do to improve academic rigor and supports, develop and retain teachers and principals, foster school environments that embody a culture of excellence and respect, and engage families and communities in supporting our students inside and outside the classroom.

Fortunately, our city school board is joined by teachers, principals, staff, families, elected officials and hundreds of community partners in non-profit, philanthropic, faith-based and business organizations who stand up on behalf of 85,000 students. Driven by the urgency to find the best CEO for Baltimore, we sought input from city schools' partners. People participated in nearly 50 stakeholder and open community meetings, and 1,500 respondents completed an online survey to share their thoughts about the qualities most important to seek as we search for the new city schools CEO.

Here is what Baltimore told us:

•We are in the enviable position of looking for someone to continue to spearhead the trajectory of education reform in Baltimore.

We need a CEO who will honor the diversity and complexities of our communities while leading continuous improvement and innovation across the organization.

The next CEO should have a record of success in raising student achievement and effectively managing district resources, especially people, talents and money.

Most important, our next leader must inspire trust and bring high levels of self-confidence and optimism as the district turns its attention to successfully implementing new curricula, effectively modernizing our facilities and building support from city schools staff, families, unions, the mayor and City Council, state leaders and a host of community partners who are ready to welcome the next CEO and offer their resources to the work ahead.

Community input provided in the public engagement process helped shape the position profile that will be used to attract applicants. Our next CEO will work with a school board that centers its priorities on helping all students learn and succeed in a district where enrollment is growing steadily across our portfolio of schools and teachers, and where principals and administrators work together to cultivate teaching, learning and school safety. The new CEO will also have the extraordinary opportunity to drive the significant decade-long facilities construction initiative designed to increase momentum in academic achievement for all students.

Baltimore's quality of life and accessibility will also be assets in attracting great applicants. CEO candidates will find our city an appealing, affordable and livable home, offering metropolitan sophistication and diversity with a small-town sensibility. Our assets of place — well known cultural, entertainment and sports entities; the geographic advantages of our mid-Atlantic location and access to a number of prominent higher education institutions and schools of education — will attract top candidates from across the nation as well as from within this region.

The Baltimore City Public School System has a lot going for it as our board opens a robust search. We are very grateful to all who provided guidance during the community engagement process and to everyone who works every day to teach and support our students. Every single one of you — our partners, school and central staff and interim CEO — make our students' achievements possible. Thank you. We now need our stakeholders to be ambassadors for us in the search and talk with their networks about the great opportunities that await our next CEO.

There is little doubt that Baltimore is the best city in the country to do this work. And the applicants will come.

Shanaysha Sauls is chair of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. The board's search consultant, Ray and Associates, can be reached at 319-393-3115 or glr@rayassoc.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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