The next Mesa Public Schools superintendent will have to repair broken trust in the community and prioritize funding failing programs and infrastructure, according to what respondents told a search firm charged with reviewing candidates for the district’s top job.
Those concerns ranked high on a list generated by education consulting firm McPherson & Jacobsen, which interviewed students, staff, community leaders and parents between Feb. 25-27.
The stakeholder interviews also found that the group of 202 participants, who were broken into six groups during the interview process, believe the next superintendent should be aware of:
Inequalities among buildings, curricula and programs for students;
The impact of charter schools on district enrollment;
The need to review school boundaries and the condition of buildings;
Outdated special education policies;
Overall funding for the district’s needs.
The concerns were presented last week to the school board by consultants William and Barbara Dean, who were asked by board President Elaine Miner about what their meetings with survey respondents felt like emotionally.
“I would say the parent community groups are concerned; there were no filters. They just said what they thought,” Barbara told the board. “I think there was a little bit more reticence, maybe, in the district staff groups, in terms of the language they used.”
“I would say, by and large, that the emotion that was expressed was earnest and it was forthright and it was genuine and it was across the board. The teachers had a lot to say, they did in our session.
“We were a little taken aback, I think initially, with how forthright in their remarks they were. But again, it was born out of honesty. And that, we felt, was something we noticed across the board.”
That passion is reflected in the Dean’s report executive summary, which stressed a desire by various stakeholders for a superintendent who is passionate and caring about all children as well as honest and transparent with the community.
Barbara pointed out that most of the respondents wanted the next superintendent to have followed a career path that started with teaching and moved up through administrative ranks.
“We talked a bit about the issue of traditional versus a non-traditional superintendent, and I would say bout 99.9 percent want a traditional superintendent,” she said.
She added most respondents want a superintendent “who understands Mesa and that understands a large school district” and that if a candidate is not from Mesa should be “familiar with Arizona and have large school district experience. “
“And that’s a little tough when you’re the largest school district already here in the state,” Barbara said. “So, there’s some bobbling around that, I would say. They were genuine, they came from the heart.”
William pointed out the vested interest and shared passion that motivated respondents to take time from their daily lives to participate in interviews.
To him, the willingness among community members to voice their opinions shows how much they care about who the next superintendent is and what they should bring to the job.
“We do a lot of these sessions,” he said. “Any person or persons who end up coming to these sessions, and they give up some of their hour or they give up some of their day at work to have some discussion with others, they have something that they want to say.”
William touched on the topics that respondents identified as district strongpoints, such as having caring, qualified staff; having “Mesa Pride;” and believing in the value that comes from listening to community members.
Other strong suits included feelings from stakeholders that the district is not broken and that there are many excellent program options for students.
Respondents also were upbeat about the opportunities to make the district better and that MPS provides support for children and families in need, both inside and outside of the classroom.
“There’s authenticity from folks who have a comment to make to us,” William said. “On the other hand, there are people who really want to represent something that they feel strongly about.”
He said he sensed a difference between authenticity and someone who might say “This is a point I’m going to make and it’s one that I’m going to make until I get my way” and said the survey report filtered out the latter kind of sentiments.
The closing date for applications was March 12, and the Governing Board has previously said it will select finalists to interview on March 27, with interviews the week of April 6 and a selection made April 14.
But it is unclear if traveling concerns generated by the coronavirus will impact that schedule.