Portland residents don’t want rural superintendent taking top schools job

Posted Feb. 27, 2012, at 9:03 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Stakeholders from a range of backgrounds told a team of consultants they want Portland’s next superintendent of schools to have education experience in urban environments, a nationwide search expert told the school board Monday night.

“People want someone who realizes that Portland is a unique city, that it’s not like other places in Maine,” Phil Hansen, chief operating officer of the search firm PROACT, told the board Monday. “They want someone who doesn’t see Portland as a small city that’s homogeneous. They want someone who realizes Portland has rich diversity and is a very urban environment with urban strengths and challenges.”

Superintendents with experience in rural communities hoping to make the jump up to a bigger district, Hansen said, are not the candidates Portlanders who weighed in with his firm want to see get the job.

PROACT is the Illinois-based consulting group hired by the board to help it find a replacement for retiring Superintendent James Morse, who is leaving the district in June after three years here.

Hansen said PROACT has led a series of public hearings and focus group workshops, as well as the distribution of an online survey, to add up to 273 contact points with stakeholders. Among those whose opinions were collected, he said, were parents, teachers, students, administrators, city government officials, diversity group leaders, nonprofit group representatives and community members.

Across those forums, Hansen said, the top quality Portlanders are seeking in their next school administrator is an understanding of urban school challenges. He said respondents to PROACT’s outreach efforts expressed that their district faces big city problems despite its relatively small population — by national standards — because of its large immigrant population and dense neighborhoods.

As a result, he said, stakeholders largely called for applicants with big city experience, not backgrounds working in rural districts. Hansen said they also wanted to make sure their next superintendent stays longer than three years, although he acknowledged that realistically long-term contracts can be difficult to work out with administrators.

“Time and time again, this came up,” he said of the longevity sought.

The school board reportedly will vote on a candidate profile based on the information collected in the forums and surveys on March 6, with applications from candidates sought until April 2. The board aims to name a new superintendent by June.

Hansen said his group will accept resumes from applicants and also recruit educators around the country who may not be actively seeking a new job but who fit the profile the Portland board approves. He said he expects between 100 and 125 applicants, with between 45 and 50 to be called in for interviews with PROACT. The firm then will whittle that group down to the best 10 applicants to forward on to the board for further interviews and research.

Hansen created a list of 18 qualities most sought after by respondents to PROACT’s outreach:

1. Knowledge and familiarity with the unique nature of the Portland community.

2. Able to maneuver and provide leadership in the ongoing relationships between Portland and Augusta.

3. Proven track record of successful experience in an urban environment with a diverse student population.

4. History of involving parents and the larger community in meaningful ways.

5. Willing to make a longer term commitment to the Portland Public Schools.

6. Energetic and compassionate individual who can manage and lead people towards success.

7. Possesses an inclusive approach with transparency.

8. An innovative individual who will evaluate existing programs and build on previous success.

9. Experience in a pre-kindergarten to adult education environment.

10. Willingness to be a visible presence in schools and classrooms.

11. Classroom experience or a firm understanding of how schools work.

12. Politically astute and able to become a voice for children throughout the state.

13. A track record of improving student performance.

14. Successful experience in working with unions and employee groups.

15. A track record of successfully working with school boards.

16. Sensitive to issues of equity and fairness.

17. Successful experience working with budgets and finance.

18. A strong commitment to working in a diverse and multicultural community where more than 65 languages are spoken.

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