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Search Underway for New School Superintendent

San Diego school superintendent Carl Cohn officially stepped down as the district's leader last month. Now the school board faces the daunting challenge of replacing the veteran educator. Many parents

Search Underway for New School Superintendent

San Diego school superintendent Carl Cohn officially stepped down as the district's leader last month. Now the school board faces the daunting challenge of replacing the veteran educator. Many parents and teachers say they’re not sure what to expect. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more. 

Carl Cohn came out of retirement in 2004 to become San Diego's school superintendent. His quiet and gradual style of leadership was quite different from his predecessor Alan Bersin. Bersin was constantly at the center of attention because of his drastic reforms. Cohn on the other hand believed in hiring top-notch administrators and empowering teachers to create change.      

Cohn: What you want to create is a climate, a platform for real leaders to get things done. What you don't want is someone who's out there looking over their shoulder saying “You know what? I don't know what to do the next month unless the superintendent of schools tells me what to do.”

Many teachers and principals welcomed that approach. Now they worry a new superintendent will change that. So far the superintendent search has been top secret, but before the search began, the public had a chance to tell the school board members what kind of leader they wanted.

Some parents say they want a more tech-savvy superintendent who could raise student achievement in San Diego through innovative ideas and programs. Others want a leader who will embrace charter schools rather than pushing them away. 

And still others say they simply want a clone of Carl Cohn. School board member Katherine Nakamura says that's not likely to happen.  

Nakamura: I think we're looking for somewhat different direction, different means of communicating, a little bit different style.

Nakamura says Cohn and his team of leaders moved forward with big plans without consulting the school board. She wants a superintendent who will be in constant communication with the trustees. She also wants a leader who will continue the upward trend of test scores that began with Cohn. But she also wants someone who will help to close the ethic achievement gap.

Not all parents or teachers believe the school board will pick the right person.  Parent Diane Haney says she has zero confidence. Haney blames the school board members for Cohn's resignation, saying they micromanaged his reforms and interfered with his ability to lead.

Haney: I don't have a lot of trust in them. I have no trust. We have a superintendent who was trying to do the best for all kids. I am convinced now that it's not the superintendent but the school board that is hindering the movement and growth from taking place.

Haney believes school board politics and not education will be the driving force behind the decision. 

Another parent, Melissa Esten, is a little more optimistic. She wants the next superintendent to come to the job with a plan in place. Esten says that was missing with Carl Cohn.

Esten: We didn't hear that large vision very quickly or succinctly and I think would have a nice thing to have seen that I think that played out but in that process I felt there was a bit a void of people waiting to see what was going to come.

Meanwhile, local teachers fear a return to the Bersin years. Teachers union president Camille Zombro says the biggest mistake the board could make is hiring a person with no background in education who has the latest fads in education reform.     

Zombro: We don't need someone to come in and fix us. We don't need someone to come in and lead us. We're not sitting here wondering what to do. We have kids in front of us everyday, we know what to do. What we need someone to get in there and help us do our work.

And she says that means reducing teacher workloads, class sizes, and improving teacher salaries.

The school board has named an interim superintendent as it  continues to look for Carl Cohn’s replacement. So far only one name has emerged. Terry Greier -- a superintendent from North Carolina.  

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.   

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