Perception is everything


Perception is everything

It can be said that to be superintendent of a public school system is among the most thankless of jobs.

Charged with the safety of students and staff, the oversight of teachers and administrators, the financial stability of the district, communication between school system and the public and policy implementation while reporting to and trying to satisfy five bosses comprising the board of education means the hours are long, the frustrations are many and appreciation too seldom heard.

It can also be said that to be superintendent of a public school system is among the most important jobs in a community precisely because the superintendent is charged with the safety of students and staff, the oversight of teachers and administrators, the financial stability of the district, communication between school system and the public and policy implementation while reporting to and trying to satisfy five bosses comprising the board of education.

That’s why we have grave concerns about some of the recent steps the Sidney City Schools Board of Education has taken in its search for the next school leader here.

The board has contracted with the Ohio School Boards Association to conduct the search. On May 31, OSBA Director of Board and Management Services Cheryl W. Ryan led meetings of five focus groups to solicit feedback on what kind of a superintendent Sidney City Schools should have. The focus groups targeted key stakeholders: business and community leaders, teachers, school administrators and school classified employees.The last meeting of the day was for the public.

At first glance, that would seem to cover all the bases. The search committee could claim that they gave all interested parties the opportunity to speak. But that would not be true.

Just 10 people — not counting the facilitator and the Sidney Daily News reporter — attended the public meeting. Under no circumstances could that claim to be a representative sample of Sidney residents who care about their school system.

Why the small turnout? Perhaps it was because notice of the meeting was limited to a Facebook post that linked to the school system’s website’s four-sentence announcement, posted less than 24 hours before the meeting. No advance notice was sent to the press to promote the meeting in the newspaper or on the radio. Does the search committee think that Facebook reaches enough of the populace to get the word out?

Perhaps it was because the meeting was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon. How many hundreds of Sidney City School parents are unavailable at that time because they’re at work? How many of them would have loved an opportunity to voice their “hopes, thoughts and ideas about what will make the right superintendent for Sidney,” the first question Ryan asked of the 10 who were there?

As someone at the meeting said, “Perception is everything.” Does the search commitee consider how such choices might be perceived?

We can’t help but wonder — and worry — that the short notice, the lack of a widely distributed notice and the choice of time for the public meeting might have been a purposeful ploy to prevent a lot of feedback.

Does the search committee — does the board — fear what they might hear from a bigger group of Sidney residents? Do they not want to know what residents think because then they might have to pay attention to it?

Or do they not need to hear what the public thinks because the decision has already been made as to who the new superintendent will be, and the committee is just going through the motions of a search because statutes require one?

At best, the public focus group process was ill-conceived. Whether there were devious or conniving motives at play remains an open question. As we’ve noted, perception is everything.

Perception is everything

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