Jacques: Give Alycia Meriweather a shot

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Alycia Meriweather really wants to keep her job as superintendent of the new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

She’s done well in the interim role, which she’s held since last March. It is unquestionably a difficult job, if not impossible. The broad swath of support she’s earned is a tribute to her hard work, dedication to the district and her genuine likability.

Those are qualities that have won over the business community, the teachers union and many parents. State Superintendent Brian Whiston also thinks she should stay in her role.

Yet apparently all her efforts were lost on the newly elected Detroit school board.

Earlier this month, it became clear that Meriweather’s application never got a chance, as some members of school board had hoped — and expected.

“I genuinely sympathize with community stakeholders frustrated with Interim Superintendent Meriweather not having been named a finalist candidate,” says Sonya Mays, board treasurer. “On March 16, I publicly expressed similar frustrations, making multiple motions to rectify the issue, but those motions unfortunately failed. The board is now proceeding with the named finalists and we are committed to the process as established.”

The search firm the board hired in January, Ray and Associates, initially offered 10 finalists (out of 75 who applied). The board whittled that number to three. One of the candidates has already dropped out, however.

The interviews with the remaining contenders are scheduled to start next week.

While the finalists may have merit, there is no good explanation regarding why Merriweather isn’t among them.

It’s an undeserved snub, and it doesn’t bode well for the kind of decisions the school board will make.

It’s true that Meriweather doesn’t have a long record of superintendent roles. But she makes up for that with her longstanding commitment to the district and Detroit — and her demonstrated competence as interim chief. The former (and final) DPS emergency manager, Steven Rhodes, tapped her a year ago. Prior to this role, Meriweather served as the district’s executive director of curriculum. And she’s also been a teacher, and is a graduate of the district.

Meriweather actually cares about this work. One project she tackled right away was revamping the district’s Randolph Career and Technical Center, a skilled trades facility. She partnered with business leaders, including David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy, who has found Meriweather an excellent partner.

Meador wrote Meriweather a letter of recommendation for the superintendent job, and is disappointed she’s not under consideration.

“This raises a lot of questions,” Meador says. “I really hope that they reconsider. Many in the business community feel that way.”

He says that with proper coaching and training, Meriweather could do a fine job as a permanent superintendent.

Choosing a superintendent is the most important job school boards do. And since this is the first time an elected Detroit school board has chosen a superintendent in eight years, the nation is watching.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, is one of those observers.

Given the intense poverty, significant number of competing charter schools and recent return to local control, the district faces challenges and finding the right leader is essential.

“Detroit is so unique, and one of the toughest districts in the country,” Lake says.

She recommends finding a leader who has a track record in the community, who can navigate local politics, and who brings a sense of urgency.

That sounds like Alycia Meriweather.

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques