Ask any student to name the most influential person in their educational experience and, most likely, the student would name a teacher. Rarely a principal. Never a superintendent.
Which is why when Glendale Unified announced that Winfred Roberson Jr. would no longer be in charge of the district, the news generated more of a ripple than a tsunami.
Roberson now joins the ranks of recent Glendale Unified superintendents who seem intent on not staying very long.
Since I began my career in Glendale Unified, there have been nine superintendents including four interim appointees. That averages out to a new one every three years.
Looking at the past three decades, each successive superintendent leaves Glendale earlier than his predecessor.
Robert A. Sanchis’ term ran 14 years, James R. Brown lasted eight, Michael F. Escalante, six, Richard M. Sheehan, five, and Roberson, three. It is getting to the point where whoever becomes the next superintendent might as well hold the title of “interim.”
The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution found that the average tenure of a superintendent is between three and four years, concluding that “hiring a new superintendent is not associated with higher student achievement.”
With changes in superintendents come shake-ups in other upper management positions. The instability is alarming. If a school had as many teachers coming and going, the education of children would be negatively impacted.
This begs the question: How important is a superintendent, the highest paid employee in the district at $250,000 a year?
New superintendents tend to establish their authority via some new cockamamie education program that is mandated for implementation in all classrooms without teacher input. Veteran teachers know to ride out such fads and don’t get too riled up about it because it will last as long as the superintendent remains in office.
When Sheehan was here, he persuaded Glendale Unified to sign a five-year contract worth $3.4 million with Massachusetts-based Curriculum Associates to use their i-Ready diagnostic testing program. The edict: evaluate each kindergartner through 12th-grader three times a year. One year later, Sheehan left. Not soon thereafter, the massive endeavor was quickly downsized.
In its hunt for the next superintendent, Glendale Unified officials have a list of seven employee search firms expected to submit proposals. Often the cost is around $25,000 for the search. One of the firms under consideration is McPherson & Jacobson, hired by Glendale Unified in 2016. That company found Roberson. Since he did not work out, why is this firm even in the running?
And with the high turnover rate, one wonders if it might dissuade a quality candidate from coming here.
I understand the importance of hiring an experienced superintendent, but since the recent ones came from outside of the district and didn’t have a prior stake in the community, the school board should consider hiring a fresh face from those who currently work at district headquarters, especially those who taught in Glendale schools.
I think they would be less likely to leave, thus offering stability, something this district desperately needs.
Meanwhile, the portraits of Glendale Unified’s superintendents keep decorating a wall in the district headquarters’ board room. Roberson, Sheehan, Escalante and company (including the 10-month legacy of 1937’s Norman B. Whytock) will forever remain memorialized, while the faces of teachers who have devoted 25, 35, 45 years of service are nowhere around.
But here’s the thing — despite the maneuvers of the school board and the high turnover rate of upper management, Glendale students still receive a quality, free education. Unfortunately, the people responsible for it remain invisible in the halls of district headquarters.