There’s a help wanted sign hanging outside the South Bend Community School Corporation Offices. The School Board has embarked on a search for the next Superintendent of Schools. Dr. Carole Schmidt will retire at the end of this school year.
This might be the most important and complicated CEO search happening in this community this year. In the end, a new leader is expected to begin serving around July 1 and will be ready to tackle the challenges of the 2016-2017 school year.
Since Schmidt announced her retirement, a search firm has been hired, the school board has contemplated what they desire in a new school leader, one hundred thirteen personal interviews and focus groups have been conducted and eight hundred thirty one people have weighed in via an online survey to gauge community input. You can find more detail on the leadership profile created from that input at the school corporation website.
Expectations are high, with a wide range of wishes that would seem only a superhero could fill. Truth is some people will be thrilled with the eventual pick, some won’t like it, and some won’t care. But we all should care, schools play a critical role in the growth and development of our community and a strong leader is needed to build upon the momentum led by Schmidt and others.
But let’s think about role for a second. Some 18,669 students are enrolled in South Bend Schools, making it the fourth largest district in the State. There are thirty four schools that house those students, some 1,214 teachers that provide classroom instruction, part of a staff of close to 2,000 total employees.
The corporation is the fourth largest employer in our area. Annually, its budget is close to $215 million. In addition to the classroom, they also have the largest transportation and food service program in our region. And there are great expectations from more than 100,000 “shareholders” (the people that live in the district).
Superintendents are called upon to make significant decisions daily. It’s a job that’s hard to escape from, basically keeping them on call around the clock, seven days a week. The school day often begins early in the morning and is stretched will in the evening hours with activities. Students, parents, teachers and staff all expect to see that superintendent supporting key corporation activities, whenever they may occur.
On top of that, property tax caps have placed additional stresses on school budgets and money that once went to public schools is now diverted to charter and private schools. The full implementation of tax caps in St. Joseph County in 2020 will place additional challenges on the budget over the next four years.
Because of the complexity and enormity of the job, the pool of candidates could be shallow. But despite its challenges, I believe the South Bend Superintendent position is an attractive one and I’m confident the corporation will attract top candidates.
Ultimately, the decision rests with the seven members of the South Bend School Board. I have confidence in the School Board selecting a charismatic and dynamic leader that exemplifies many of the qualities outlined by parents, educators, staff and community leaders.
Most importantly, as a community we must be ready to rally around that new superintendent and give him or her the support needed to be successful in our community. The work ahead is grand, but our expectations must be reasonable.
The time frame is short and we can’t waste our time or energy seconded guessing the decision, in that scenario the real loser is our children.