The ball is in the Rochester school board’s court now. And whatever follows is squarely on the shoulders of board members.
Board President Van White says that the board will immediately begin the search for a permanent superintendent now that current superintendent Bolgen Vargas is on his way out. He wants to have someone in place ideally by June 2016. Board members haven’t yet decided whether they'll hire a search firm.
That’s the short term agenda.
But White, as many people know by now, sees an entirely new role for the board moving forward, one that goes well beyond recruiting and hiring the next superintendent. It’s what he constantly refers to as a paradigm shift from a passive and reactive board that has historically followed its superintendent’s lead to a far more assertive body.
Whoever the board hires will need to be comfortable with this collaboration and close supervision. And that person is going to have to be able to hold up to White’s unapologetic sense of duty to scrutinize.
The public’s skepticism of the board has been an obvious frustration for White. Whether you agree with his approach to managing the district or not, he has worked aggressively to change public perception to one that embraces a more hands-on board. And he will readily rattle off a list of strategic changes that he strongly believes are leading to the results this community has been waiting for.
Pushing through the partnership between the district and the University of Rochester to turn around East High School is chief among them.
And White insists that despite the change in superintendents, that the board will stay the course on most of Vargas’s initiatives, and it will resist the call for a whole new set of strategies from the next superintendent.
But will that be enough? It's unlikely; the public doesn't care that much about strategies anymore. They've heard it all before.
Until test scores improve and there is an unmistakable upward trend in graduation rates that climb well above the mid 50-percent range, it will be difficult to change public opinion about the district and the school board. And unlike past changes in the district’s leadership that have been less in the board’s control, this time parents, teachers, and community leaders know who is firmly in charge. And they will know who to blame or who to praise.