The community ‘can and must engage’

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Over the past few months, there has been considerable discussion regarding the search for the next superintendent of Prince Edward County Public Schools. This discussion has covered the gamut, from the aspirational — that our next superintendent should reinvigorate and revitalize our school division and that new leadership may result in our division becoming a model for others in Virginia, to the historical — that our division’s unique past carries both opportunity and responsibility, to the relatively mundane — that the next superintendent should embrace and elevate arts systemwide and that our board of supervisors should greet new division leadership with a commitment to fully fund the division.

There seems to be something significant lacking from our current conversation regarding the future of our schools.

Without a substantive, communitywide effort to establish a clear vision for the future of our public schools, our school board will be ill equipped to determine the best candidate to assume leadership of our school system. We must work together to identify where we want our schools to be in order to ensure that we have concrete expectations for our next superintendent. Otherwise, we risk the persistence of the status quo that has resulted in not preparing our graduates to be competitive in the ever-changing global economy.

Our community cannot afford more of the same, and it is our responsibility to set ambitious, concrete and achievable expectations that will both inspire and empower our next superintendent to drive for transformational outcomes for our county’s students.

Perhaps our hesitation to get granular and to engage in the nuts and bolts of the superintendent hiring process results from commonly-held misunderstandings about the respective roles of our county leadership. The superintendent reports to the school board — in essence, the school board is the superintendent’s boss, but that does not preclude or diminish the necessity of community engagement in the establishment of expectations for the superintendent’s work.

We can and we must engage with seemingly more tedious aspects of school governance. We lack historical examples of this sort of direct engagement with the more mundane aspects of school governance, but that shouldn’t stop us.

Let’s help make our community a better place.

Taikein Cooper is a native of Farmville and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in public policy analysis. His email address is taikeincooper@gmail.com.