Look No Further

The best superintendent for Clark County schools may be right under our noses

Fifty thousand dollars. That’s what the Clark County School District is paying a Nebraska consulting firm to find a new superintendent. And the focus is national, so, come fall, we’re bound to wind up with a pool of outsiders who—and the firm seems confident about this—will not have any embarrassing legal or financial problems.

I realize that bureaucracies have to do things a certain bureaucratic way to maintain that bureaucratic feel that’s gotten our educational system (ahem) this far, but gosh darn-it if the best person for the job isn’t right here. Does a national search firm have it in its DNA to make the unconventional, inexpensive and courageous choice?

No, this is not building up to another push for Jim Rogers, the Las Vegas multimillionaire who was noble enough to lead the university system for five years without pay. Love ya, Jim, and thanks for offering, but we need someone else to do this particular job. Someone who’s just as sharp, outspoken and audacious—just in a steadier, sturdier and saner kind of way.

That person is Carolyn Goodman, one of the most important educators in our city’s history. She founded and ran the private, nonprofit Meadows School for 26 years, developing it into a nationally renowned leader in K-12 education. She did the job without ever collecting a paycheck. She recently retired and, this summer, is searching for her next challenge.

Problem is, I doubt that she’ll throw her hat into the ring. If it were a campaign, maybe, but this is an application process. Because she is the wife of the mayor and a civic player in her own right, maybe you can see why that might be awkward, especially with Rogers already playing the role of public crusader.

Another possible wrench: She might run for mayor next year when her husband’s term is up. But if the Nebraskans called her up and said, “Hey, we’ve checked your credentials, why don’t you at least apply?” she might go for it. In other words, the school district needs to open the door.

Here’s what’s at stake: Our school district is the most important asset this community has. If we’re to have a brighter future, we need a brighter population. It’s even more crucial now that both district and community are mired in these worst of times. We need to tap into our collective courage now. Let’s do something smart sooner rather than later. For once.

Including Carolyn in the process would be a good start. Using some of the district’s own criteria, here’s why:

She has education expertise.

Carolyn is big on the no-nonsense, old-school philosophy, with emphasis on the three R’s. She also believes in “teaching to the top,” which is a tough concept to explain, but suffice to say that “no child left behind” to her should include the smart kids, too. It’s important to note that one of her biggest influences came from the Clark County School District in the early 1980s: LeOre Cobbley, the principal whose Harris Elementary students consistently tested among the best in the country. Carolyn found her, got the Goodman children into that school and eventually recruited her to be The Meadows’ first headmistress.

<p>She has a proven track record.

Every Meadows student has gone on to college, they’re excellent test-takers and they’re prepared to succeed at the next level. Some people snicker, “Well, that’s because it’s a rich-kids school.” While it’s true that there are plenty of BMWs in the parking lot, about 15 percent of the students receive financial aid to attend, with the main criteria being that each child is “able and ambitious.” The school is designed to serve that breed of student, which means the model is not totally applicable to the public system, but the Cobbley-esque basics would quickly help the district get out of the testing basement.

She has budget expertise.

The vast majority of Meadows tuition goes into the classroom instead of having some bloated administration. Carolyn knows education is about the teachers—who, by the way, do not get invited back to The Meadows if they don’t teach well.

She’s a good communicator and a leader with vision.

I’ve combined these two criteria because you can’t truly separate them. Her communication style is direct, honest and determined, which helps her stick to convictions.

She doesn’t have a lot of business experience, but …

I’m not sure why a majority of those participating in a school district survey think the new superintendent should have a lot of business experience, but as Meadows Chairman of the Board Ike Lawrence Epstein said in explaining why Carolyn was the school’s chief asset: “She could have been the CEO of General Electric—that’s the kind of person she is. But she did this instead.”

She has experience with a large district.

Well, she has experience with it as a parent of four kids (only one went to The Meadows). Otherwise I consider her lack of experience in this category a good thing, partly because if she gets the job of superintendent, my next hope is that she breaks up the district—the nation’s fifth largest—into manageable pieces. This way we can repeat the grassroots effort that led to The Meadows.

She cares about children and their families.

It’s why The Meadows School exists. It’s why she donated a quarter-century of her life to making sure it was run correctly. It’s also why I think she might take the job, if offered.

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