This article was featured as an opinion editorial in NH Union Leader and also referenced extensively in a staff editorial, School job: Manchester’s needs.
With Dr. Goldhardt’s resignation, Manchester School District finds itself in the familiar role of searching for a new superintendent. Everyone is asking the right question: Why are Manchester’s superintendents chewed up and spit out on such a regular basis?
And then the conversation goes in the wrong direction. Most debates focus on whether it’s best to promote from within or to bring in an outsider. It reminds me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones discovers that the Nazis only possessed one side of the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. He realizes, “They’re digging in the wrong place!” Similarly, “Internal or external?” is the wrong question.
The right question is, “What are the qualifications?” There’s this general assumption that a superintendent has to be a former teacher or “lifelong educator” because who else would understand how to run a school district? Except the superintendent isn’t a teacher. He/she is a CEO of a $215M organization with 2,000 employees. Those are not remotely the same job.
Apple’s CEO has never been an engineer. Tim Cook is a logistics expert. Pepsi’s CEO isn’t a chemist or engineer. She’s an MBA. The CEO of UPS never drove a truck in her life. She’s a former commercial lender. Home Depot was founded and run by a pharmacist (and an accountant). The CEO of Delta Airlines is a financial auditor who has never flown a commercial aircraft in his life. Ditto for the CEO of Southwest Airlines. Jeff Bezos was an electrical engineer who never wrote a single line of code. Robert Kraft was an MBA with no experience in the manufacturing or paper industries.
25 years ago, I started a small software company. The first meeting I had with a potential investor did not go well. He told me, “You’re a charity case. You’re not an opportunity.” And then he proceeded to share some of his criteria for investing. At the top of his list was a requirement that the CEO is not an engineer and certainly not the founding engineer. He insisted that the CEO had either a sales or marketing background. He also had thresholds for the ratio of engineers to salespeople in the company. His reasoning was that the crucial growth phase of a company is not predicated on its ability to create great products. It’s their ability to generate growth.
What does this have to do with Manchester School District? They’re choosing a chief OPERATING officer, not a chief EDUCATION officer. MANSD is one of the top-twenty largest employers in the state of NH with more employees than Plymouth State University, Catholic Medical Center, or Sig Sauer. There are six bargaining units to deal with not to mention state and federal regulatory agencies and a settlement with the US Office of Civil Rights (to which Manchester is forever bound until the OCR says we aren’t).
The financial, contractual, and legal complexities are extensive. To be honest, the educational complexities are not. We know what works in education because we used to do it. Student proficiency has been dropping for decades because we’ve needlessly complicated education in support of the Education Industrial Complex.
The head of an organization does not need to be an expert in whatever product or service they provide. That’s the senior management team’s job. The job of a CEO is to develop and maintain operational excellence by putting employees in the best position to succeed. That is a completely different skill set than teaching Johnny to read, write, add, and subtract. Manchester School District should be looking for an executive who can manage teachers, not a teacher who can manage contracts.