School board members will decide on who the next superintendent will be, and to these members, I ask, “Is Pinellas County School System ready for a Black or Hispanic superintendent?
BY RICARDO DAVIS, Ph.D., President, COQEBS
PINELLAS COUNTY — The question is not intentionally intended to be simply provocative; it is more of a “are we ready” question. The Pinellas County School System should be examining this question.
We should not hire a Black or Hispanic superintendent because they would represent either group. But because we have hopefully arrived at an inflection point in our history where the right candidate is not just someone with the traditional educational or leadership background, but also happens to be Black or Hispanic.
The search process must intentionally produce candidates and finalists from diverse backgrounds for this to be possible. In the recent election of a Black mayor in St. Petersburg, citizens made a historical and transformative decision that we were ready for the change.
School board members will make the decision on who the next superintendent will be, and to these members, I ask, are we ready? No one believes that employment selection processes are entirely void of elements of subjectivity. After all, we are all human beings with our own biases. However, the decision-makers will be expected to provide the community with a transparent process that reflects integrity and equity.
We still have an achievement gap challenge in Pinellas County Schools. That is not to say we have not made progress — we have. It is also not to suggest that selecting a Black or Hispanic superintendent will miraculously solve all our challenges. But we know from extensive research that a powerful statement can be made when children from historically underserved communities begin to see themselves reflected in the leadership of our institutions.
The new leader must take us beyond the progress we have demonstrated thus far. This new leader must be a visionary who can see and articulate new horizons for all students, especially Black and Hispanic students.
The new superintendent must be an inspirational leader that others are prepared to follow. The person must be ready to lead a district of approximately 100,000 students, of which about 19 percent are Black, and another 18 percent are Hispanic. They must be able to manage a budget of $1.6 billion and approximately 17,000 employees. This person must demonstrate improvement in student’s outcome metrics through incremental but continuous progress, especially in the Bridging the Gap Plan.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego’s decision to retire provided the district with this unique opportunity to select a new superintendent at this time in the district’s history. The district has never had a Black superintendent since its inception in 1912. The challenges that persist despite incremental progress will not be resolved quickly. The most qualified applicant does not have to be Black or Hispanic, but they most certainly could be, and we as a community should be ready if they are.