Thursday, July 18, 2013

Recap: Superintendent Candidate Jeanice Kerr Swift

The superintendent candidates have come and gone, and I find myself being slightly reluctant to post anything, because, after all--does it matter? The board will decide. But yes, it does matter--because I promised to share my research and thoughts--and because I think inasmuch as we know a person's strengths and weaknesses going forward, that is helpful. So, I'm sharing this in four parts: what I learned about the candidate from research; key links; what I experienced/noticed when I met the candidate in person; and if the candidate is hired, what we should make sure to communicate to them.

Research on Jeanice Kerr Swift

If I was looking for an exercise in frustration, then I found it! I was unable to uncover very much information about Jeanice Kerr Swift. I completely "struck out" in reaching people who knew her from her work in Colorado Springs District 11. There was a little bit on the web about two curriculum-related activities, which I linked to in a previous blog post, and not much else. 

At first I took this as a reflection on my research skills (which I generally think are pretty good), but then I realized something else. If you search my name on the web (skipping the blog-related stuff), or the name of one of our assistant superintendents (say, Alesia Flye, or the now-retired Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley), you get information about work they have done. Try it, by searching yourself, and see what you find.

I also struck out in developing contacts in Colorado Springs. I did have several friends try for me, and the one person who found a person in D-11 was told that his contact didn't know Jeanice Kerr Swift.

My conclusion--in part, relates to her role as assistant superintendent, but the other piece is that I think she is a person who has probably done an efficient job staying in the background. 

Key Links

Here are the live blogs: 
Semifinalist interview
Finalist interview
90-Day Plan presentation

My original writeup about Jeanice Kerr Swift

My impressions

Jeanice obviously is very comfortable and knowledgeable in the curriculum/instruction realm and I feel comfortable that she really thinks about special education kids and at risk kids. I might disagree with her about outcomes and results. For instance, she did say “a rising tide lifts all boats” and in my experience with vulnerable kids that is not always true—the tide that lifts the majority of boats often leaves vulnerable kids behind.

She also just seemed to accept that teacher evaluation laws (that use tests of students to evaluate teachers) are coming and didn’t express any opposition to them, but I have big problems with them. She "said" she would be a big advocate in Michigan as superintendent around school funding issues, but I don't see experience in her background that makes me think she would be good at that. This is in part because I couldn't find any examples of her advocating for anything to the public or government. Maybe she has done it and I couldn't find it. (She gave an example of working with the legislature to cost out a proposal, but that was really operating in the background--I want someone who will be out front on school funding and in opposition to bad "educational reform" ideas.)

Also importantly, there were times in the interview where I thought she should know something (detailed, but not super detailed) about the Ann Arbor schools, and it made me wonder how much research she had done on the district. 

I didn’t get a sense of her administrative skills (budgeting, etc.), the 90-day plan was a puff piece (we should “DREAM!!”) and almost all of her answers had a curricular focus. If this were a curriculum job that would be great, but I don't think she demonstrated her skills in budgeting, union negotiations, etc. She relied on the word "we" far too much, as in "We did X," and it's unclear to me (in, for example, redistricting) what part was her role and what part were other people's roles.


I think there would be a very steep learning curve for her if the job were to be offered to her, and that would probably not be a good thing for the district. If the job were to be offered to her, she would need a very strong support team (more than a few parents, teachers, principals, and the board) to orient her to the district, to the media, to Michigan politics, etc. I would rather see the board reopen the search. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ruth -- really appreciate all your work to cover this -- and your candid assessments. Thank you!