Richard Hyatt: A leader this community needs

January 30, 2014 

When David Lewis rolled out his 120-day report last weekend, headlines focused on the superintendent's plan to deal with the lingering Macon Road issue by proposing to realign the district and restructure the way it is managed.

His words were encouraging, because for the first time, a school leader admitted to the world that there are differences between schools south of the local Maginot Line and those on the north.

When the subject has come up in the past, the answer has always been the same, that inequities weren't real, that the whole idea was just someone's perception. Lewis didn't dodge this bullet.

He has cited inequities in expectations within the district and in his report he says equity does not mean equal resources: "It means equal opportunity."

It was also encouraging that since Lewis arrived, he hasn't stayed in his office and waited for educators to come by and kiss his ring. He took to unfamiliar streets and personally visited every schoolhouse in the county, listening to teachers, parents and stakeholders and not just his immediate staff.

The result is a 32-page summary of what he discovered by listening and by analyzing the mountainous stack of data that public school systems produce. He presented it to the Muscogee County School Board and scheduled meetings and forums in which he intended to share it with others.

Bad weather forced him to cancel school, reschedule those other sessions and to prematurely release a report that in the lofty jargon of education is titled Superintendent's Initial Assessment and Recommendations Report.

Since taking over as superintendent, he has already met some of the pressing needs. He hired an assistant superintendent with a background in the classroom, began installing a district-wide reading program for elementary school students and quietly laid the groundwork for a retooling of his cabinet.

But of all the proposals, Lewis said reorganization was imperative. Cosmetically, it moves us away from that historic north-south divide, but a closer look shows us it will narrow the schism between 58 schools and the main office on Macon Road.

He proposes three regional chiefs, reassigning three people in the system into these new roles. They will oversee individual schools and report directly to Lewis and Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Braaten. This removes several layers of insulation between principals and the superintendent.

Once the plan is finalized, Lewis becomes a talent scout - which has not been a strong point of recent administrations. He'll be looking for regional chiefs who ignore old boundaries and have the ability to bridge a communication gap that now exists in our schools.

Many other needs are addressed in his plan but his regional proposal sets the stage for the others and will make it possible for David Lewis to be the superintendent this community needs.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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