At the Editor’s Desk: What Do We Want in a Superintendent?

On Monday, Sept. 12, the Unit 4 school district will have its first forum seeking public input on the search for its new superintendent.

I’m not exactly sure what to expect at this event, to be held at Centennial High School at 7 p.m. But what I do know is that I have very high expectations for what a new superintendent will mean for the future of the district — and in turn, the future of the city of Champaign.

The atmosphere of the district must be changed for it to move forward and serve the needs and the desires of the community.

champaign schools superintendent search forum Unit 4

Who will be the next person to occupy the biggest office in the Melton building? Give your input starting this Monday as Unit 4 has its first community forum regarding the superintendent search. photo

And I have a long wish list, indeed.

First and foremost, I want a superintendent who is out and about in the community, who doesn’t shy away from microphones, notepads, cameras, or public appearances. A superintendent who is accessible to every parent, resident or taxpayer in the district, a superintendent who cares about kids, families, teachers, and staff.

I want a superintendent who understands how important it is to COMMUNICATE, via any and every mechanism available to him or her.  A superintendent who will be mindful of the mistakes of the past, but one who won’t let that past hamstring our children’s future.

I want a superintendent who understands the importance of customer service. I want a superintendent who will create of a culture of “let’s evaluate/look into/try that” instead of the current “oh no, we couldn’t do that.”

I want a superintendent who will take a good, hard look at the current school assignment process and evaluate it with fresh eyes and fresh ideas. And not just the kindergarten process, but the transfer process as well as issues regarding the wait lists and getting into a school mid-year.

I want a superintendent who isn’t afraid to make hard choices and recommendations that perhaps some people (even me!) might not like. But I want that superintendent to be thorough and judicious.

Most of all, I want a superintendent who will provide ALL of our children with a top-notch educational experience that meets — or goes above and beyond — our already high expectations.

Is that too much to ask?

Over the summer I sat down for a long talk with Sue Grey, the president of the Unit 4 School Board. We covered a wide range of topics (of course the school assignment process), but the superintendent search was Topic 1 and 1A.

And what I heard, I liked. Grey feels that the next superintendent must “change the culture of the district” and the right superintendent would be someone “that has a common vision that is shared with the community; a superintendent who listens to what people have to say.”

So now, I open up the floor to you. What feedback do you want to give the Unit 4 school board and the search firm seeking the district’s next superintendent? Add your wish list items in the comments below. 

Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of You can reach her at laura@chambanamoms(dot)com.

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  1. I have really like Dr. “Bob” Malito so far. And I may be naive, but Dr. Malito seems to hit all your points. So here is my quandary – Dr. Malito is merely the Interim Chief. What are the chances we will find another person like him to fill the slot?

    I am sure Dr. Malito is not perfect; but I would like for the “devil’s advocates” to step forward and point out characteristics they want to see strengthened for the purpose of finding someone even better. If such a thing exists – I can always hope. :)

    Next question, think we will find someone who blogs like Michael Smith? Again, not saying he is perfect, but his style certainly brings a whole new flavor to the game.

      • Exactly. :)

        So, is Michael Smith doing the “heavy lifting” that you mentioned? I assume he is – I mean, nobody has his head on a chopping block, and it seems like the job is getting done. I cannot even begin to imagine how much of a different ballgame Unit 4 is from Tuscola, but surely there are similarities.

        So my biggest issue with advertising what I want to see in a Superintendent (which I have not shied away from regardless – here and here) is that I can be horribly naive in terms of what the school district needs from a Superintendent. I have no idea. None. Well, I mean, I have some small idea – I can read the job description (and have) and what the official policies say his/her duties are (again, I have), but that brings little bearing to my own mindset about what I want out of a school chief.

      • Woops, I need an EDIT.

        Why do we need a Super in the first place? If Malito is “just a figurehead” and the school district is moving along anyway….. just saying.

  2. Dr. Malito is a figurehead at this point. That’s not a criticism – far from it. That’s just a fact. He may have the characteristics we’re looking for, but he won’t be doing any heavy lifting – and that’s what we need. We need to find someone who can do both.

  3. Change the culture of the district. Amen. I have met with several people in our community that have ties to the school district, and there is amazing passion and excitement for the future like I’ve never seen before. I can’t help but think that great things are on the horizon.

  4. Agreed on changing the culture.

    This district has an unhealthy fascination with the most violent and least capable students, and totally neglects the bulk of kids who just want a good, safe school. Kids who have spent time in Juvie get more resources when they are returned to the high school, the underperforming kids get more resources. Those resources come at the expense of the overall school environment, and the cost is to your children’s future.

    It is time to focus on the vast majority of kids who are good, not just the bad kids.

    • And one more question ~ where do you get your facts? Resources are blanketed out across the district and if you had any clue about funding you would know where it comes from. Federal dollars are given for a child that is in your words “least capable” and they are protected by LAW. Federal law.

      My most capable child is at Centennial and the resources and environment for him are beyond measure to help him succeed. The teachers and staff are amazing for him and for us as a family.

      Focus is balanced in many many ways. Come sit next to me at a school board meeting. Oh yeah that’s right ~ I’m usually alone at those.

  5. Champaign Mom says:

    Linda W, my perspective differs from yours. I do not believe the district has an “unhealthy fascination with the most violet and least capable students” at the EXPENSE of programs for “kids who just want a good, safe school”. I believe as a public school serving ALL children, the needs of ALL children must be considered. I personally do not believe that FAIR and EQUAL are the same thing. And, I believe my own “good kids” and thousands of others in the district have been and are being treated fairly in the distribution of resources and are receiving a good quality education. Perfect, probably not, but I am happy with many more aspects than not.

    I appreciate that my children see in action teachers and others at school affirming that every child has value and potential. It is important to me that my children see positive examples of how to treat others who might learn more slowly than they do or who might not have good ways to communicate their emotional or physical pain. My children will grow up and perhaps become the future attorneys or doctors or neighbors or parents of children with disabilities or with challenging behaviors and I hope they never, ever think of others as “least capable” but can see the value inherent in each person.

    • I hate to break it to you. If you trade academic rigor for “feel good” measures, you get a CNA or maybe an RN, not a doctor.

      • Champaign Mom says:

        Why would you presume it must be a trade? I expect, and have received, both.

      • I guess Academic Watch Status (AWS) is what you expect? Academic Watch Status is what we have received.

        For those who don’t know, AWS is the lowest possible rating for a school in Illinois. Champaign Unit 4 schools have been on Academic Watch Status for years. “Champaign Mom”, I think that you are the only person in the county who is happy about this.

    • If negative behaviors are minmized and/or overlooked if often comes at the expense of the well-being of other students. I believe all students, by law, also have a right to a safe learning environment. No consequences for egregious instances of bullying, physical confrontation with other students, etc. comes at a price for other students (safety and mental health-wise). And, no, it’s not just the ‘little things’ that are ‘overlooked’ at some schools. I ‘get’ the approaches…..NH, PBIS. It’s the way they are being implemented at some schools in the district that is problematic IMO. You want kids to want to behave better, but, you essentially ignore the collateral damage (or regard it as ‘worth it’ for the sake of OTHER students, even though ALL students’ needs deserve equal consideration) in that period of waiting for them to develop that desire (which some never reach it<<<and not due to a lack of expectations for them to by school staff and/or parents, etc.). I am not sure it serves any students well in the long run if a goal is to equip them with skills to be successful in the 'real world' (of rules and consquences), as the 'real world' isn't going to be so 'nurturing.' and 'encouraging' when you do something negative. It's messed up IMHO if a student is 'honored' for not having done something worse—-if 'pride' is expressed to said student over the self-control they did exercise when they shoved another student to the ground at the urinal. And is that not a lowered expectation message to the student? When it comes to behavior vs, academics, where is the outrage that some students are held to a lower standard? Learn to discipline yourself or somebody else will. You can choose to be in control of your behavvior or you can choose to transfer that control to others who will ensure the job is done in ways you might not like. Rules in the workplace, laws, etc. are a little more than kind of, sort of, 'encouraged.'

  6. Affirming that every child has value is a different proposition than insuring that every classroom contains at least one problem child to slow down the class for everybody else.

    It is a laudable goal to see the inherent value in every person. But this particular method of achieving that goal sacrifices 100% of a teacher’s attention during significant parts of the school day. A teacher dealing (every day) with the same child’s “challenging behavior”, is a teacher that is not teaching the other 30 students during that time. A teacher having to go back to review basic concepts for a child with learning disabilities, is a teacher who is not teaching your child the more advanced concepts that she needs to learn.

    This particular method of affirming value is turning out a generation of children who will not meet their own potential. How will your child get into law or med school? She has to compete against children from schools that challenged them instead of leaving them idly watching the daily discipline game with the bad kid.

    It almost seems like the elite have foisted these disabled and challenging children upon our classrooms in order to keep us all down. To keep our kids from being able to fully compete with their private schooled kids. If feels good to you, so you go along with it, but think of the damage that it does to your kid’s future.

    • And your attitude is one of many reasons why parents like me and others have to fight for our child’s right to an education.

      I am not an “elite” nor is my child with disabilities “foisted” upon the classroom to keep “all us down” ~ your remarks are beyond insulting, rude, and above all else throughly misinformed and uneducated.

      My child’s educational needs are fully funded via tax dollars and federal dollars. The money follows her needs to be supported in a classroom. How the district uses those dollars is an entirely other matter.

      I am shaking I am so enraged by your demeaning comments and one more reason I advocate for my child’s worth when you bring your narrow minded views of potential and value into this.

      • I want to make perfectly clear. Nobody is questioning a disabled child’s right to a public school education. You can take the time to reread my post, and you will see a totally different proposition.

        The issue is that each and every classroom now includes a token number of problem children, and developmentally disabled children. The inclusion of a small number of children who require a massive input of teacher time, is what robs the vast majority of children.

        Two violent children fresh out of Juvie recently beat a teachers assistant into the emergency room at Centennial. Daily, a teacher must slow down the pace of her class to go back and try to bring a developmentally disabled child up to the speed of the rest of her class. These things have a cost.

        That cost is far greater than the direct subsidy from our tax dollars that your child’s school receives. That cost is paid by the rest of the children who are not given an appropriate learning environment in their classrooms.

      • and THAT is exactly where you are wrong. The teacher doesn’t stop the class to bring that child up to speed. I spend hours upon hours writing an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for my child with her teachers, aides, and staff to ensure she ISN’T slowing the rest of the class.

        Educate yourself before you start talking about what happens in a classroom for a child with special needs. IEP’s are in place and that is far far far different than lumping in violent offenders with a child with learning disabilities.

        And as far as “token numbers” the balance is there for a reason. My child is typically the only child with an IEP in her room AND if there are others they are typically for pull out services for speech.

        Again ~ know what you are talking about when it comes to children with special needs and exactly how the classroom functions

  7. Champaign Mom says:

    In response to Alex’s comment about about Academic Watch Status–I understand this system very well. I think that sometimes people do not understand how diversity in a school or district can affect “average” scores. I’m not suggesting I am happy that all children of every income and racial/ethnic group are not performing at an outstanding level, but when you are looking at scores and comparing them, it’s important to understand what these numbers actually mean. I’ve put together some data that help form my opinion (you can do this yourself on the Illinois Interactive School Report Card website)

    Illinois K-12 Unit Districts with enrollment over 2000 students with similar demographic characteristics (% low income, % white, % black, % Hispanic):
    Bloomington, Champaign, Freeport, Rock Island, Springfield, Urbana

    How many of these districts made AYP last year? none

    Comparing these districts’ test scores for all subjects, all grades, for past three years ( the numerals shown represent % of students who scored as “meets and exceeds standards” and it shows a 3 year trend–e.g., Bloomington in 2008 was 78%, in 2009 was 77%, in 2010 was 80%):

    Bloomington 78,77,80
    Champaign 76,77,77
    Freeport 75,73,73
    Springfield 64,65,67
    Urbana 71,72,72

    Comparing these districts’ reading and math performance of all grades for the year 2010,
    white students only, any income level, (% meets and exceeds standards):

    Bloomington: reading 85 math 89
    Champaign: reading 87 math 90
    Freeport: reading 83 math 84
    Rock Island: reading 72 math 79
    Springfield: reading 75 math 81
    Urbana : reading 82 math 86
    *Champaign had the highest scores in both reading and math

    If this analysis is performed for different racial/ethnic groups, the patterns are similar across districts, however, the performance for students of color in all districts is lower than the performance of white students. When you look at “overall” district performance measures, these scores are all put together and you see a figure that accounts for all of the subgroups. It’s probably a good idea to pull the performance apart as I have done above if you want to see how students similar to your own are doing. (In my case, I chose white, because my children are white).

    As a side note, Champaign Unit 4 produces these results with an Operating Expenditure of $1600 less per student per year than Urbana

    One final set of comparisons:

    For year 2010, reading & math performance, all grades, white students of all income levels, % meets & exceeds standards. I chose white students only because only Champaign and Urbana have enough students of color to show scores other than white only.

    St Joseph HS district: reading 70, math 77
    Rantoul HS district: reading 45, math 37
    Urbana: reading 82, math 86
    Heritage: reading 80, math 86
    Tolono: reading 81, math 86
    Champaign: reading 87, math 90
    Mahomet-Seymour: reading 88, math 90
    Fisher: reading 81, math 86

  8. Champaign mom,
    have you considered sending your child to St Thomas Moore. Here are some reasons it might be a good fit for you and your child

    1) It is predominately white so your kids would be with other white children. The race card needs to be played there.

    2)They do not honor any districts IEP’s while only tolerating 504 plans under the most extreme conditions (such as blindness or deafness) therefore ensuring your child would never have to endure a classroom contaminated by such undesirables as the learning disabled or special needs students who hold all of the typical children back, in your opinion.

    3) STM does a wonderful job of sweeping the behavior of problem student under the carpet therefore ensuring that parents such as yourself only hear of this delinquent behaviors as rumors making it easier to pretend that behaviors such as unprotected sex, teen pregnancy, drug use, theft (oh yes, this is a huge problem among the privileged) are not a problem there.

    Check it out. You may find this place is just what you are looking for…..

    • Champaign Mom says:

      I’m thinking perhaps you are thinking this is what Linda W is looking for rather than me? These reasons you suggest are exactly why I’m a fan of our local public schools.

  9. Really, what is wrong with being a c.n.a.? Snob! I work in Human Resources at a nursing home, and a c.n.a. job is a respectable occupation. How dare you stereotype people. I work with some wonderful men and women who perform c.n.a. duties with love and care for retired lawyers, professors, and the high and mighty you speak of. Why don’t you take your attitudes and move to a school district that caters to the perfect? Meanwhile, I will send my “time consuming special ed kids” to school, where the are thriving, learning, and will become maybe that c.n.a. who takes care of you someday!

  10. Mom of public school graduates sho are tops in their field.... says:

    So where does this take us when looking for a Superintendent?

    Remember a good superintendent educates his/her elected board about the law, due process, current best practices, historical issues within the district, the needs of our community, etc. The super is not the policy setter but the policy implementer for the board. It is the board that we must carefully choose. There is no magic wand or perfect superintendent that can please all. The board does the hiring….

    So what can you do? Talk with your elected officials. Attend open meetings. And recall that equal access to public education is mandated and the foundation of our great country. To deny it is illegal. And to wish it differently is myopic.

  11. WRT a Superintendent, I would like one who would be interested in addressing some troubling findings from the School Climate Survey (2209<>2011). Specifically:

    ‘By far the most common concern was the perceived negative impact on discipline in the
    district. One teacher’s comments captured a common view of this problem:
    I have watched discipline deteriorate under the consent decree. Each year is worse. The
    statistics won’t show it, because we don’t report infractions as we used to do. Now, the
    tone for class to begin seems to be just a hint to go to class. Students blatantly disregard
    instructions to clear the hall. From my supervision desk, I can say with great certainty
    that during my period, the tardy students are almost all A[frican]A[merican] students
    and in increasingly large numbers and increasingly late—often 20 or 30 minutes tardy.
    Teachers are told to count the students present if they appear 5 minutes before the end of
    class. We certainly have not served these students well by not disciplining them as we
    did in the past. We are not preparing them for life after high school. I think that is
    racism at its worst and it was caused by the consent decree.
    Another teacher offered a parallel narrative:
    … the discipline system at Centennial is essentially non-existent. We allow students (of
    all races, but especially black students) to get away with so much for fear of “running up
    the numbers.” Students are very smart and will push as far as we’ll let them. We now
    have a building where students are arriving tardy to class, cursing at staff members in
    the hallway, blatantly ignoring reasonable requests, and complete disregard for policies
    17 The survey data reported here were collected before Judge McDade retired the consent decree in the fall of 2009.
    (cell phones, iPods, hats, etc.) is the rule, not the exception. Unfortunately, the majority
    of these incidents occur with black students. However, staff members have simply given
    up attempts to enforce the rules or have come to expect being talked to rudely because
    any complaints or referrals raise questions about their racial sensitivity.
    The most common interpretation offered for why discipline has deteriorated under the consent
    decree are new policies that aimed to reduce racial disparities by changing and constraining the
    administration of discipline. Teachers appear to have interpreted messages from the central
    administration to mean that they are not to discipline African American students. This has
    happened either indirectly as suggested by this certified staff:
    I sometimes feel uncomfortable reporting a black student’s misbehavior. On the one
    hand, the rules should apply equally to everyone. On the other hand, every time we report
    the misbehavior, it adds a strike mark to the school’s record.
    Or directly, as a member of the Discipline Equity Task Force said: “Orders came down not to
    write DRs [discipline referrals] – no wonder the numbers improved!” And as another teacher
    said: “it’s not that teachers aren’t disciplining, it’s when they do nothing gets done.”’

    I have not seen the written recommendations (complete list, not just the ‘top’ ones chosen by the EEE Committee, but, I don’t think, as suggested in a previous School Climate Study, that educating staff about ‘white privilege’ is the answer.

    • It is worth highlighting a Huge point from this long post above:

      “staff members have simply given up attempts to enforce the rules or have come to expect being talked to rudely because any complaints or referrals raise questions about their racial sensitivity.”

      This does not serve the long term interests of either the children being left to break the rules, not the interests of the good children. This does not serve the long term interests of our society.

  12. Then:
    · Increase the cultural competence of teaching staff. Efforts to do so must go
    beyond the teaching of cultural sensitivity to educating about issues of White
    privilege. These efforts must also go beyond a focus on interpersonal
    understanding of racism to educating about issues of institutional racism, history
    and power. These efforts must also extend beyond short term workshops and inservice
    trainings to become incorporated as more regular and ongoing features of
    each school.

    • This study is a thinly veiled attempt to expand Black Privilege at the expanse of everybody else. Two generations of Affirmative Action, and more generous discipline policies have not yet been enough to create equality of outcome. Therefore:

      More goodies for blacks. But, there is no specific outreach for the Muslim community. Muslims, unlike blacks, actually are discriminated against, we receive no affirmative action, and twice the scrutiny by the security forces. When will we get our due?

  13. Karen Roese brings up a good point. I have read Dr. Aber’s reports and spoken with him several times in person, and the sad fact is that his observations and recommendations have not really change much at all over the past 11 years. If nothing else, that is a big gaping hole I hope the new Super addresses. And I have to be honest, when Unit 4 officially responded to Aber’s latest report, they emphasized how they did not agree with all of his conclusions. To top it off, the EEE has published several goals in conjunction with the Administration and the BOE that mimic some aspects of Aber’s recommendations, but so far I have not seen anything actually done about it. Burn me at the stake for being a cynic – I can only hope that something is indeed moving forward other than merely goal setting in this regard.

    What else makes Unit 4 “dysfunctional”? The Climate Survey points out a bunch of issues – are there others? In a general sense, I have to agree with many others (including Laura) that Unit 4 definitely has an image problem. I would also add that, in my personal opinion, there is too much bureaucracy, too much “administration”. I don’t know how, but I am quite curious what it would look like to scale back and simplify a little. (A lot?)

    Circling back to the Aber reports, Sascha has some strong words. Which makes me think that his opinions are largely buried and/or ignored. Which is a shame.

  14. What frustrates me further is that Unit 4 changed the grading system of the freshman class at Central without putting any information out to parents or on the website.

    I grow weary of defending Unit 4 when they keep doing stupid things like this. Parents want communication bottom line and until Unit 4 wakes up and begins the transparency ~ the public is not going to trust them.

    We need a Super who is interested is open honest communication BEFORE they implement changes or ideas.