Spokane Public Schools superintendent Shelley Redinger is departing to Richland. Replacing her successfully will require a national search done transparently and with meaningful public engagement.
Redinger has been an inspirational leader during her eight years as superintendent. When she arrived, the city’s schools faced challenges, not least aging infrastructure. She built good will with the public and helped convince voters to pass funding levies and a $495 million capital bond. The latter is paying for construction and overdue renovations that in turn allow less-crowded classrooms.
Equally important, Redinger changed the culture in city schools. The middle and high schools in particular struggled eight years ago. Redinger’s eye for talent helped turn them around. She knew when to hire a new principal and when to let a dynamic principal stay in place and continue to improve the situation. At Shaw Middle School, new leadership re-energized the school by incentivizing values-based behavior and personal disciplinary intervention. The change was dramatic in just a year.
She also worked with local leaders and the community to focus not just on high school graduation rates but also earlier education years that build a foundation for later success. For example, she collaborated with local businesses and foundations on a grant that targeted aid to Garry and Shaw middle school students who were at the greatest risk of not graduating. At the same time, Rogers High School was undergoing a period of remarkable improvement.
Finally, Redinger stood up to entrenched interests that did not always have the best interests of students at heart. She called out raises demanded by the teachers’ union and imposed by the state that wound up siphoning money from school libraries.
We wish her the best as she and her family head to Richland. That community is lucky to have her.
Finding a replacement who can match Redinger’s accomplishments won’t be easy. COVID-19 and state revenue shortfalls will place unprecedented strain on schools. An interim leader could help for the next few months, but it would be a mistake to hire a permanent replacement hastily or conduct only a token search.
Spokane’s students, families and taxpayers deserve a chance to weigh in early and often to help set priorities for what to look for in the next superintendent. They also deserve a robust, national search that takes place in the public eye. Only then can there be confidence that the replacement was chosen not because he or she was the easy option but the best option. Maybe the best replacement is already here, but determining that requires looking at who else is available and interested in coming to Spokane.
Spokane Public Schools Board President Jerrall Haynes last week insisted that the board would not be hurried. He pledged a deliberate process with community involvement. The board must hold to that pledge even as the local teachers’ union urges haste and appointing someone who won’t be as tough on them in negotiations as Redinger was.
Yet the board also chose to start things with secrecy. It met in closed session on Wednesday to discuss next steps and was scheduled to meet again without the public on Saturday. The big-picture conversations about how to conduct the hiring process, whether to hire an interim leader and more are not sensitive matters that warrant cutting out residents.
Indeed, “transparency” should be the guiding principle at all stages. Some initial confidentiality might be required so as not to scare off potential applicants who worry that word will get back to their employer. As the school board winnows the field, however, finalists’ names should all be public. Invite them here, let residents meet them and share informed opinions about who would be best.
The board also could bring in some parents and nonparent residents to serve on a search committee. Then, at least, there would be some public perspective throughout the hiring process.
Hiring a new superintendent is a chance to bring a fresh vision to local schools. It mustn’t be handled parochially or secretly.
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