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Public divided over what they want in a superintendent

By Suzanne Sprague

DALLAS – Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: As soon as former Superintendent Bill Rojas announced he wanted to leave the Dallas public schools, local business leaders began calling for trustees to consider hiring a non-traditional candidate: someone with management and leadership skills, but not necessarily a background in education. Dozens of community leaders turned out last night to voice their opposition to this proposal. Adelfa Callejo is a long-time Hispanic activist.

Adelfa Callejo, Attorney and Activist: And we simply do not feel that we want a non-traditional candidate. If they were so great, then I assure you that Highland Park and University Park and Plano would have them.

Sprague: The majority of speakers agreed with Callejo. But there were others, like teacher and former army officer Diane Birdwell, who felt strongly that a non-traditional superintendent could fit in.

Diane Birdwell, Teacher: The educational system is not some incomprehensible building full of people who speak a totally different pedagogy than anybody else. If it is a non-traditional person, deal with it and move on. Support them and let them run the district.

Sprague: While some speakers called for a superintendent with new ideas, others argued for someone who would stick to proven methods. But there was general agreement that the next superintendent have a proven record, not just a philosophical commitment, to working with minorities and community groups. Liz Flores Velaquez is the executive director of the Greater Dallas Community Relations Commission.

Liz Flores Velaquez, Director, Greater Dallas Community Relations Commission: It's not enough for the candidate to say, "Yeah, I'm committed to that. Yeah, I've done that." I urge you to make site visits and check the backgrounds of these candidates to make sure that they walk the walk and don't just talk the talk.

Sprague: The search committee already has a list of 42 possible superintendent candidates from 15 states, although most of them are working in Texas. Tuesday's meeting mirrored the public input process that led to the selection of the last two Dallas superintendents. But Lee Alcorn with the Dallas NAACP said in the past, the public's comments have fallen on deaf ears.

Lee Alcorn, President, Dallas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: We have seen this played over and over again, where it looks like the public really has some input and opportunity for input. That input has been ignored time and time and time again.

Sprague: Which begs the question of how meaningful this process is. Trustee Jose Plata said he found last night's comments interesting. But he added a superintendent's success doesn't depend entirely on the selection process.

Jose Plata, Dallas School Board Trustee: The issue is not the person who gets selected. The issue is usually one of integrity, ethics, leadership, understanding what their role is; and it's not just the superintendent.

Sprague: Plata said it's also the Board of Trustees and how well its members choose to work with the superintendent. Trustees are expected to receive a list of five superintendent candidates toward the end of this month and make their decision in mid-September. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.