Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Search process should be public

Esther Charlestin’s decision to leave her position as the Middlebury Union Middle School Dean of Climate and Culture, in response to lackluster handling of race-related incidents last year, speaks to the need for the Addison Central School District to commit to building a culture of anti-racism.

Unfortunately, the ACSD School Board’s decision to make its superintendent search confidential sends exactly the opposite message.

Last spring, during the permanent superintendent search, members of the parent stakeholder committee circulated findings to the community from the U.S. Department of Justice, concluding that the school district led by one of the two finalists had not adequately addressed racial and other forms of discrimination.

That information was known to the ACSD Board, but the board chose not to share it with the parent committee or the community as a whole. Once parent committee members circulated it independently, the board received numerous immediate calls from community members to withdraw consideration of the finalist in question. Ultimately, that candidate withdrew.

Now that the board is resuming the permanent search, they have decided to keep all candidate names confidential from the general public until the hiring process has already been completed. As one board member put it in the Independent, “Having a more public process converts an education leadership position into a political position by opening it up and putting names into the newspaper before the board is done talking with them.”

The experience at MUMS underscores exactly why educational leadership and public vetting go hand in hand. The public made it loud and clear that they did not want to bring on a new leader whose district was cited for mishandling of racial discrimination. That message put pressure on the district to prioritize anti-racism in building its leadership capacity.

As the Independent noted in the spring, when the board first shifted to a confidential process during its interim superintendent search, “Addison Central School District had maintained a long history of conducting very public searches for its top administrators — as have other Addison County school districts.”

At a time when it’s clear we need to do better on race, an engaged public helped ensure that our next top administrator’s record on race discrimination would be a key consideration. On the heels of these recent events, now is not the time to pull back on our tradition of open leadership searches. The board should reverse its decision and maintain an open and public search process going forward.

Chris Kramer

Cornwall

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