Just when you thought that school board members couldn't embarrass themselves any further, they have bungled the most important hiring they will ever make - the new superintendent. It has been a typically-mishandled project from the beginning. Now, after months of work, it looks like their only finalist, Norristown Superintendent Lisa Andrejko, may be flawed. But not necessarily fatally.Last year, QCSD hired Doylestown consulting firm Pennsylvania People Solutions to seek out, and screen, potential candidates. They started by forming a committee. You remember QCSD committees. Those hand-picked groups that issue reports echoing exactly what the board and administration want to hear. Three separate advisory groups were chosen to supposedly provide input: administration, teachers, and district citizens.
Clint Searl, a member of the citizens group, was not pleased with the process, or the results. "Without any participants' preparation or foreknowledge of the activity, a meeting of our group was held on Jan. 2. It was a wasted couple hours. In my corporate experience, it was a typical consultant exercise that produced little, if any, meaningful results, serving only to allow the decision makers to claim community participation".
The committee summarized QCSD's "three greatest strengths." Judge for yourself. Is this the district you know?
"1. The Quakertown Community School District enjoys strong, positive community support. There are many opportunities available for twoway communication between parents, citizens and the schools, and the district actively seeks their input into school operations. The district staff is very responsive to parents' and students' needs."
"2. The Quakertown Community School District has earned a state-wide reputation as an excellent school district with visionary progressive leadership and staff. The district displays a willingness to change as new challenges in education youth present themselves."
"3. The Quakertown Community School District has a very competent professional and support staff who have produced excellent curricular and co-curricular activity programs that afford students opportunities for recognition, achievement and growth. A comprehensive professional development plan is in place that serves to help the professional staff increase their knowledge and skills."
" Strong, positive community support?" Over a thousand people showed up at a board meeting to oppose program cuts, and 1,400 people signed a petition to change the way board members are elected. And the more than 150 negative comments on the surveys of 2005 and 2006 graduates, and their parents, were certainly "strong," but hardly "positive."
" State-wide reputation as an excellent school district with visionary, progressive leadership and staff?" Huh? We have the lowest SAT scores in the area, one of the highest teacher salaries in the state, and tax increases of 50 percent in five years. Thirty-four percent of 11th graders failed the PSSA math test. Teachers are alleging grade manipulation. Eleven people are running for school board. And where was that "visionary leadership," and "willingness to change," when the administration and board fought tooth and nail to keep integrated math despite overwhelming evidence, both nationwide and from our own grads, that it was a failure?
And what did this let's-patourselves- on-the-back report have to do with hiring a new superintendent except mislead the candidates? Anyone who has been following the antics of our board and administrators would have to wonder what school district was being evaluated.
So who sat on this committee, which was supposed to broadly represent the community? Fourteen board-picked volunteers. Not a single supervisor or council person from any of the six municipalities, though all were asked. Three were from the Richland Historical Society - with two names that might be familiar to you: Vic Stevens, who lost the 2005 supervisor election after his "Republicans For Stevens" Web site was discovered to be actually Greenies from Perkasie; Amy Zowniriw, wife of Richland's only criminal supervisor, who maintains her own Web hate-sites, and was sued by her elderly neighbors for cutting off their water.
In fact, if you cull out the "educational representatives" from The Quakertown Community Education Foundation (an arm of the school district), QCSD's Citizens Advisory Council (which gives input anyway), and Upper Bucks County Area Vocational Technical School (which includes Palisades and Pennridge), there are exactly four local community groups represented. Richland and Quakertown Historical Societies, Quakertown Alive, and the YMCA. Hardly the community diversity you are led to believe.
Earlier this month, the board announced that the 19 applicants had been reduced to two finalists. One mysteriously dropped out after just a single meeting with the board. The remaining candidate, Lisa Andrejko, has been Superintendent the of Norristown Area School District since 2003. She is highly regarded for involving the community, and for innovatively improving test scores in a poorly- performing district. She lives in Coopersburg, and was previously principal at Southern Lehigh Middle School.
Fine so far. But she is the only candidate. Any problem would mean having to start all over again. So the board tried enormously hard to impress her. She spent April 18 in our schools, and met with a handpicked group who were instructed by the board not to ask difficult questions, or mention anything negative about QCSD. All "guests" were presented with "Guidelines for Meeting with the Superintendent Candidate," which included "The candidate will need to decide if he/she wants to accept the position. Consequently, the candidate will need to feel he/she can work successfully with the board, staff and community. Therefore, it is important that we all serve as gracious hosts and share the positive things about our schools and the community we serve with our visitor to the district."
Unfortunately, the dreaded problem did arise. And having painted themselves into this corner, the board is not telling the public the truth about it. They say that they want someone with experience in school budgets that are voted on by the public, and Norristown doesn't do it that way. While true, it is only an excuse. Their consulting firm, or their committees, or they, themselves, would have known this long ago.
Ms. Andrejko had a conflict in Norristown and Southern Lehigh. The board should be disclosing both, in public. Perhaps they are the "live-andlearn" variety that everyone encounters. She went on to do a good job. And, after all, the board seems to have tried very hard to hide our problems from her. But she should not get the job solely because the board has not left themselves an alternative. If Ms. Andrejko deserves this position, it must be with no cloud over her head.