Karl Douglass: Moving schools forward now key

July 7, 2013 

It looks like we will know the name of the finalist, or finalists, for the job of superintendent for the Muscogee County School District this week. After a search that has had its share of fits and taken more than a year, everyone is glad to have finally arrived at this point.

So much attention has been paid to the protracted search process that there has not been much public conversation about what the new superintendent will face when he or she takes charge.

Like the interim superintendent, the new superintendent will be faced with major cuts in state funding. The interim superintendent has suggested that more school closings are imminent. Will the new superintendent agree or does he or she have another idea about how to absorb the funding cuts?

Earlier this year, the interim superintendent suggested that the board should ask for citizens' to approve a new SPLOST in 2014. Among other needs, he cited structural problems at Spencer High School as a major reason why new SPLOST capital is needed. Will the new superintendent agree or will he or she feel that the timing is not right for a new SPLOST vote?

The interim superintendent suggested that Richards Middle School should become a 100% IB magnet in the 2014-2015 school year. Will the new superintendent champion the creation of more 100% magnet schools in the district or will he or she have a different philosophy about how best to make all public schools more attractive to more families?

At the same time, the new superintendent will take over a district where the majority of students met or exceeded state standards in all CRCT subjects in the 2012-2013 school year. The issues of student performance are certainly not all solved, but the data shows trends toward improvement throughout the district. How will the new superintendent build on these gains in student performance and, more importantly, make the Muscogee County School District number one in student achievement when compared to similar systems in Albany, Athens, Augusta, Decatur, LaGrange, Macon and Savannah?

Now that the conversation can finally shift from "when will the school board find a new superintendent" to the topics of moving our public schools from good to great, citizens must engage that very critical conversation. The same passion that moved taxpayers to criticize the school board for taking so long to find a new superintendent must now move them to become active in the efforts to make our public schools better. Of course, part of that process is holding those who lead the school system accountable. But, equally important is the need for each of us to find constructive opportunities to advance the effort and engage those opportunities so that the entire community can benefit.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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