Superintendent search an opportunity to build our power

Published: 6/27/2021 12:12:23 PM

After watching the recording of the June 15 special meeting of the Greenfield School Committee on the superintendent search process, I was dismayed about how little opportunity for public input there currently is over the superintendent hiring process.

The superintendent role is a powerful one in the district. Among other powers, recent changes to state law mean that the superintendent decides whether the district will hire a school cop (aka resource officer). Given the long, deep history of racism and bias in U.S. public schools and policing, including in Greenfield, and that one of the current finalists for the superintendent position has a background in corrections, this is no small point.

In 2016, the Greenfield Human Rights Commission created a working group to address racism in Greenfield Public Schools after the arrest of eight students. Then-Superintendent Jordana Harper noted that the Greenfield Public Schools (GPS) was already using restorative justice practices, anti-bias and anti-racist trainings for faculty and staff, cautioning that it can take three to five years for those efforts to show progress. Yet, this February, we learned about a teacher playing Hangman with students to mark the beginning of Black History Month.

It is imperative that the person hired to lead GPS not only personally values the lives and well being of oppressed students, but that they demonstrate those values in practice. The most oppressed Greenfield community members should have maximum control over GPS as an explicit mechanism for not only redressing historical wrongs, but building future rights.

The public has had limited opportunity to provide comment through the Search Committee. The committee did not meet with the public to find out what their questions or concerns were — a glaring oversight. Although I appreciate the time and effort that the Search Committee members put into their interviews, there should be more involvement of GPS students, staff, faculty, and parents and caregivers.

GPS School Committee ought to create meaningful mechanisms to prioritize community control over the search process, at a minimum soliciting questions from the public for the candidates. If I had an opportunity to interview the superintendent candidates, I would ask questions like:

• What does racial justice mean to you?

• What is your view of the relationship between schools and police?

• Do you have experience bringing restorative justice or non-punitive conflict resolution practices into schools? What is concrete evidence of progress as a result of those efforts?

• How have you supported student, teacher, and staff mental health and physical well-being in your previous positions?

• What is your experience with community outreach that prioritizes parents and caregivers and students?

Right now, School Committee members (working with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, to manage the logistics of the search process) are setting dates for virtual site visits with the candidates’ current workplaces. Then, candidates will be invited to site visits with GPS staff, teachers, students, and parents. Finally, the School Committee will hold individual interviews with each candidate before making a final decision to extend an offer. School Committee members are required to submit one question each to be included in the interview questions, and all candidates must be asked the same set of questions.

I urge community members — particularly students, parents, and faculty and staff — to contact School Committee members to express the questions you want them to prioritize. Although they are not obligated to use community questions, this is an opportunity to make ourselves heard.

GPS announced plans to send a survey this week to parents and others affiliated with GPS, for people to indicate their interest in attending the candidates’ site visits — everybody should fill out that survey and plan to attend those visits, prepared to make it known to the candidates what this community cares about, and that we are paying attention. We should talk with our neighbors about the candidates and the issues. Together, our imaginations for what a truly just education system could be, are boundless.

Whoever is hired to fill the position of superintendent, we will need to organize to ensure that they are responsive to community needs and wants — that they build real relationships with all students, staff, faculty, and parents in the district.

Email addresses and phone numbers of School Committee members can be found here: https://bit.ly/3gR6PCx. Let’s make ourselves heard!

Stacey Sexton, a Greenfield resident, is a socialist, avid reader, and education researcher. When not working and organizing, they like to be in the woods.


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