School board picks qualities it wants in new superintendent

A strong communicator. A people person. Someone who can inspire trust and self-confidence. Someone strongly committed to a "student-first" philosophy.

Howard County needs all of those things in its next superintendent, the Board of Education determined Wednesday, Dec. 14, as it finalized a list of attributes that will influence recruitment and advertising efforts in the nationwide search for Sydney Cousin's replacement. (See list below.)

More than 1,200 Howard County students, parents, teachers and community members responded to a survey by Ray and Associates, the search firm hired to find Howard schools' next leader, ranking the importance of 33 qualities for the schools' leader.

The survey results offered mixed reactions: While the words "innovative" and "reform" were repeated throughout the narrative provided by the firm's regional director, Jim Oglesby, the quality of "comfortable leading innovation and reform efforts" didn't crack the top 10. Still, qualities that didn't make the list are often covered automatically under state and federal requirements, Board Chairwoman Sandra French said.

"I like (leading innovation and reform efforts) … still that's very similar to the concept of emerging research, best practices — in other words, we're going to be interested in those areas," French said. "It's just duplication."

Another quality that would be duplicated under federal and state requirements includes the next superintendent having an Ed.D. or Ph.D., which is required but seemed of little importance for survey respondents; that quality was ranked 30th out of 33.

Surprisingly low on the survey results, noted board member Janet Siddiqui, was a desire for the next superintendent to close or narrow achievement gaps: It was the 11th most important quality ranked by respondents.

"That's what the focus has been over that last eight years with Dr. Cousin, and the achievements that we've made, we need to continue in that direction," she said. "Part of the process isn't just selecting a superintendent that's going to go in and change things — we want to keep things going in the same direction, yet find that little piece of innovation, that link that's going to take us to the next level."

Also up for discussion was the advertised salary for the position. Currently, Cousin makes $265,000 a year. Ultimately, the board voted to advertise the position "in the range of" $275,000, with a comprehensive benefits package. Board member Allen Dyer was the only opposing vote to the advertised salary, citing discomfort at advertising a higher salary than Baltimore City's superintendent.

"The base salary in Baltimore City (for the superintendent) is about $260,000, and is projected to be $267,000 (next year)," Dyer said. "I don't like tossing out a figure that is higher than the $267,000. We're talking about the superintendent of Baltimore City, which has an enrollment of 82,000, and they're … here in Maryland.

"I don't want to feel like we're in a bidding war with Baltimore City. I don't want to convey an impression that we think we're better than Baltimore City. I'm just uncomfortable going above that, myself."

Ray and Associates will now finalize the promotional material for the position, contact interested candidates and officially begin advertising and recruiting. Board interviews with candidates, who must apply by Feb. 22, are scheduled for March. A contract is expected to be offered to the next superintendent in March or April.

The list of qualities the school board wants in its new superintendent includes the following:

• Is a strong communicator, in speaking, listening and writing.

• Possesses excellent people skills and presents a positive image of the district but will listen to input and make a decision when necessary.

• Inspires trust, self-confidence, and models high standards of integrity and personal performance with the ability to develop and communicate a vision of quality education for the future to the board, staff and community.

• Possesses the leadership skills required to respond to the challenges presented by an ethically and culturally diverse community.

• Is strongly committed to a "student-first" philosophy in all decisions.

• Is able to delegate authority appropriately while maintaining accountability.

• Has knowledge of emerging research and best practices in the area of curriculum/instructional design and practice.

• Has successful experience in sound management practices.

• Has demonstrated strong leadership skills in previous positions.

• Is able to lead a large organization dedicated to goals of continuous improvement.

• Is able to identify and select administrators capable of advancing the district vision.

• Possesses the ability to enhance student performance, especially in identifying and narrowing the gaps in student achievement.

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