Editorial: Slow down school chief search

The Detroit News

The newly elected Detroit Public Schools Community District board is cruising through the selection process of a new superintendent. While that is job No. 1 for the board, this decision merits taking the time to find the best candidate.

The board is now considering only two candidates, after the third dropped out last week. And it never gave the consideration it should to interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather. Despite her good performance in that role the past year — as well as the fact she’s garnered the support of a broad swath of stakeholders — she didn’t make the cut.

That has upset the Detroit teachers union, business leaders and others who have come to respect and trust Meriweather. Even some school board members have voiced their support for her, and weren’t pleased the search firm didn’t include her name.

In light of this backlash, the Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan sent a strongly worded letter to the board this week, saying their members believe the board needs to extend its search timeline and expand its candidate pool.

“We are deeply concerned that the lack of internal and external buy-in threatens proper operational preparation for the new school year and reinforces responsible parental exploration of other more stable and secure school district options,” the letter states.

Thomas Stallworth III is the vice president of the Black Caucus board and a former state lawmaker. He’s also the father of Misha Stallworth, the secretary of the new school board.

We hope the board heeds this advice.

As part of the DPS bailout legislation passed last year, lawmakers instructed the new school board to choose a superintendent within 90 days. That deadline was the end of March.

But given the significant investment taxpayers made in the Detroit district ($617 million), the focus should be on making a sound decision rather than a quick one.

Plus, the board has already shown complete disregard for the same law, which called for closing the worst performing schools in Detroit. The board has decided to sue the state to keep these 24 bad schools open.

The two remaining superintendent finalists are Derrick Coleman and Nikolai Vitti. It’s hard to tell if either of them would bring the kind of passion that Meriweather has exuded in her role.

Coleman, superintendent of the River Rouge school district, is an odd choice, given that district has less than 2,000 students — a fraction of Detroit’s 46,000. Plus, River Rouge has struggled academically. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has given those schools Ds and Fs, factoring in for poverty.

The other candidate is more interesting. Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, heads an urban district that actually seems to be getting good results. Of 21 urban districts around the country, Duval County scores at the top on national standardized tests. DPS, not surprisingly, is at the bottom.

Still, the newly reformed school district needs stability right now, and that’s what Meriweather has provided.

The school board should listen to the community’s concerns, and take its time finding the right superintendent for Detroit.