District Superintendents and Free Agent All Stars
Anybody versed in educational reform has heard of Paul Vallas.
His fame isn’t baseless: he turned the Chicago Public School System upside down and raised test scores with a balanced budget while maintaining improved union relations. He privatized Philadelphia’s school system, with mixed results but overall gains in scores, and led an effort to reinvigorate post-Katrina New Orleans.
Reports now say that Vallas has been hired on as Interim Superintendent for Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The fact that a school administrator can take on the iconic status of an NBA free agent is uncanny. Come end of the season, superstar players reach the end of their contracts and are on the market for whichever team needs them the most and can pay them. In the free agency of educational reform, Paul Vallas and former Washington D.C. public school chancellor Michelle A. Rhee are the superstars.
Looking at these highly regarded names, the obvious questions is why they haven’t been brought over to California’s school systems. The simple answer is: we don’t need them.
California has its own hometown heroes, such as Christopher J. Steinhauser of Long Beach. The 30-year educator grew up in the Long Beach School system, from kindergarten all the way to a Master’s degree from Cal State Long Beach.
Serving as superintendent since 2002, Steinhauser managed to steer the district toward many successful achievements. A Harvard study recently recognized LBUSD’s successful reform strategies. Through the “Long Beach Way,” the district’s board and teachers are treated as partners in a top-down and bottom-up reform effort.
No surprise then that Long Beach won the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2003 and in 2010 was named by the McKinsey Report as one of the top twenty districts nationwide in terms of academic gains and sustained reforms. So for the highly sought-after Paul Vallas and Michelle Rhee, no thanks because we already have our hometown hero.
John Oliver-Santiago is a fellow with New America Media's Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.