Dr. Steven Walts is retiring. Because we have to replace him, the School Board has hired a national search firm, BWP & Associates (PWCS Superintendent Search – Prince William County Public Schools). To find out what kind of person we want to replace Dr. Walts, BWP & Associates has been holding Community Engagement Meetings. They asked the participants to address three topics.
- What do you see as the greatest strengths of PWCS?
- What do you see as the greatest challenges faced by PWCS?
- What qualities and characteristics does the next superintendent of PWCS need to possess and demonstrate?
When I sat in on one of the Community Engagement Meetings, I was a bit disappointed. I don’t blame Dr. Kevin Castner and Dr. Wayne Harris. They ran the meeting well enough, and there is nothing wrong with asking for community involvement, but I think many of the participants put the emphasis in the wrong place.
To see the problem, let’s go through those three topics.
What do you see as the greatest strengths of PWCS?
What did the participants see as PWCS’ greatest strength? Diversity. Diversity, however, is not a strength.
Definition of diversity
1: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : VARIETY
the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization
//programs intended to promote diversity in schools
2: an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities :
an instance of being diverse
//a diversity of opinion
When I was growing up, back in the 60’s, the word “diversity” had not yet been captured by the identity politics people. Then the second definition was the definition of “diversity”. Then people understood that diversity could be a good thing or a not so good thing. For example, diverse road conditions — a diversity of road conditions — could include roads with potholes, snow, ice, and fallen trees.
Prince William County Schools has to educate children from diverse backgrounds, that is, diverse socio-economic conditions. That includes things that don’t matter very much, like race and sex, and things that do matter like creedal differences, differing dietary habits, primary language differences, single versus two-parent homes, poverty versus wealth, and so forth. For example, if a child’s parents are in the country illegally, then that child may speak English as a second language, and his or her parents are not as likely to be well educated. So, that child — no matter how well gifted — is going to be more difficult to instruct than he or she might have been.
With respect to diversity, what is PWCS’ strength? Our county has the financial strength and the will to help the students who need more help. Our strength is our generosity.
This willingness to help people from diverse backgrounds was actually on display at the Community Engagement Meetings. PWCS actually had interpreters available to support participants in nine different languages besides English. Supporting nine different languages is absurd and probably somewhat wasteful, but the effort to involve as many people as possible is admirable.
What do you see as the greatest challenges faced by PWCS?
So, if diversity is not a strength for PWCS, what is it? Because diversity complicates the task of educating our children, including making it more expensive, it is a challenge. Diversity probably poses the greatest challenge for PWCS. That is why our greatest strength lies in the fact we have implicitly recognized this challenge, and we have committed ourselves overcoming the challenges posed by diversity.
What is the nature of this challenge? Consider the political strife during this last election. Much of the strife, just as was the case in this meeting, revolved around charges of systemic racism. Is there systemic racism in Prince William County? Without a doubt most of us are more comfortable with people with whom we share racial characteristics, but that is probably because we also share the same cultural background with those people. That is probably because we each find it easier to communicate and empathize with people like “me”.
Most of us have had little opportunity to spend an extended period outside the United States, but imagine being in a foreign country for a couple of months. Nothing would feel better than getting back home to the USA. Why? What does it mean to be home?
- People speak English and use familiar idioms.
- You know rules of etiquette when dining, and that makes eating more enjoyable.
- Body language is cultural. So, there is less risk of unintentionally giving offense.
- And so forth.
The point is that among people we know we can more easily relax. We don’t have to be as fearful of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Because PWCS serves a diverse community, all of us, not just the PWCS School Board and administration, have to work to overcome the problems created by diversity. We must all strive to keep one thought at the forefront of our minds. The schools exist to provide the best education for our children, not to soothe egos wounded by real, unintentional, and sometimes even imagined injuries and insults.
What qualities and characteristics does the next superintendent of PWCS need to possess and demonstrate?
Some of the participants actually advocated that the next school superintendent needs to be black woman. That is both a racist and sexist and sexist demand.
Frankly, we should all be indifferent to the race and the sex of any candidate we choose to serve as our next superintendent. For the sake of the children, we must put the focus on producing and maintaining a world class school system. To achieve a world class school system, we need to seek the best qualified candidate, someone capable of running our schools and delivering the best possible education for our children.
Because PWCS is a large school district, we can afford to hire the most competent person for the job.
- We can hire someone with experience running a smaller school district. We don’t have to hire some who has to learn the job on the job.
- We can hire someone who has demonstrated their ability to produce win-win solutions. Because of the divisive politics of our times, we need a superintendent who can listen to both sides and produce compromises that satisfy the primary concerns of both sides.
- We can hire someone who has demonstrated that they know how to produce educational results for our children. If we care about our children, then we want a superintendent who works as a servant-leader devoted to the needs of our children.
Is making our school administration look like our community a desirable goal? No. Then when will the racial, sexual, and ethnic composition of the PWCS administration look like Prince William County? Don’t we have to do something? No.
If we do a good job of educating today’s children, then in 20 years today’s children will be running our schools. Without a good education, they won’t be running anything. However, who knows what the racial, sexual, and ethnic composition of Prince William County will look like in 20 years? That’s why making the racial, sexual, and ethnic composition of the PWCS administration look like Prince William County is a fool’s errand. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we properly educate our children.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Please check out PWCS Superintendent Search – Prince William County Public Schools. If you wish, check out this page too, Superintendent Search Underway – Prince William County Public Schools (pwcs.edu) and send an email to BWP via Dr. Kevin Castner (his email is on that link). If you live in Prince William County, you pay taxes here, and you too have a stake in how well our schools work. Let the School Board and BWP know what kind of person you want running our schools and spending your money. Note that BWP will be briefing the School Board on December 17.