Tuesday, July 29, 2008

COMMENTARY: "Nice guy" SD of L superintendent interview raises concerns

As reported in the July 29 Intelligencer Journal, comments by Pedro Rivera who assumed the position of Superintendent of the School District of Lancaster earlier this month evince both naivety and a misguided attempt to build good will.

For example Rivera states: "The school district also is blessed with an experienced, well-trained staff of administrators, teachers and support workers, Rivera said... The problem is not with teaching; the problem is with leadership"

A more experienced leader would have stated "The system has many extraordinary teachers" thus leaving latitude for making a number of changes if necessary and not dissipating his or her influence. How much can Rivera know about the competence of personnel in just four weeks on the job? Instead of squandering his authority, Rivera should be studying what top staff members should be retained and who should go.

Not once in the long interview is the deplorable state of the sports program at McCaskey mentioned. And yet a good physical education and competitive sports program can provide much of the solution to drop out rates, obesity, gangs, cultural friction, student and faculty morale, and respect for authority...and even scholastic performance! As NewsLanc has reported, the win / loss records of most of McCaskey teams are a disgrace, which is a direct reflection on the leadership of Assistant Superintendent Drue Miles and Athletic Director Allen Mccloud and the failure of coaches to conduct effective team practices and teach strategy. Teams don't learn to win by simply scrimmaging!

In defense of Rivera, this mistake of trying to be a nice guy is almost always made by individuals moving from staff to CEO positions. They naively want to be perceived as a well meaning peer. And it takes months and perhaps a year before they are able to understand that they have the responsibility for sorting out the bad from the good, and making difficult but essential decisions that inevitably bring about pain and criticism.

Whether a president, a governor, a mayor or a school district head, the first few months are a "honeymoon" in which that person can push through the type of initiatives and changes that will later be blocked by politics. The school district cannot afford to wait months and perhaps a year for Rivera to grow into the job.

Rivera is only 35 years of age. Perhaps he should show up at a team practice and lead students around the track a couple of times. That would build morale and demonstrate his commitment to revitalizing the sports program. Is he up to it?