Superintendent search process to begin once again

March 14, 2012 

So it’s three and out for the Muscogee County School District’s first female CEO.

This isn’t the usual pattern of short tenure for a public official -- a verdict of voters or a governing body’s consensus. No, this is apparently the decision of Susan Andrews herself, and it seems to have caught the school board completely off guard.

Andrews, 57, took almost everyone by surprise Monday night when she announced that her term as superintendent will in effect end with the current school year: Her last official day on the job will be July 31.

Thus will conclude a 35-year career in public education that began, appropriately enough, in a first-grade classroom in Harris County. Since then she has risen through the educational and administrative ranks, first in Harris County, where she earned accolades as the state’s 2007 Superintendent of the Year, and since 2009 in Muscogee County, where she broke a gender line in taking leadership of one of the state’s major school districts.

Among the highlights of her resume here is her advocacy and leadership in getting a $223 million sales tax for schools passed in 2009. She has also been credited with helping the district navigate the Great Recession, which saw millions in state funding lost but without the layoffs seen in other school systems. Board member Naomi Buckner rightly praised Andrews’ accessibility -- a virtue, in any public official, that we media types always appreciate and seldom acknowledge.

The downside of the superintendent’s tenure, and it cannot be ignored, is a recent series of truly alarming student performance reports, specifically with regard to test scores and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results. Andrews is probably right to call AYP an “arbitrary standard” and she hardly bears sole blame for appalling results, any more than she bears sole credit for good ones. But the office for which she applied -- and for which this newspaper endorsed her -- is where the proverbial buck stops. Whatever the flaws in the testing system, poor academic performance is never acceptable, as Andrews herself has acknowledged.

Hers is a job with a serious burnout factor, as predecessors such as Jim Buntin or Guy Sims could no doubt attest in harrowing detail. “It will consume you” is Andrews’ own assessment.

Still, we would like to have seen Susan Andrews give herself a chance to put more of her stamp on local public education, to have a real shot at turning those negative numbers around and building on her own, and the district’s, successes.

Now the superintendent search process begins anew. The familiar questions, like how broad the net should be cast and whether an independent consulting firm should be hired, will be raised once again.

The familiar local challenges -- school performance disparities, the politics of magnet programs and, always, the daunting task of educating at-risk children -- aren’t going anywhere.

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