Mar 10, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Since we have Say Yes to Education to offer up on a platter to whomever takes over as superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, it should be no surprise that both finalists for the job tout impressive resumes, including extensive work in urban districts.
I watched both candidates (who were introduced to the public last week) deliver 30-minute speeches to, then interact with, crowds of about 150 parents, community leaders, district employees and students. It would be fair to say that Say Yes and the outside consultation firm Cascade Consulting, which conducted the superintendent search, did their homework. Both candidates were well-spoken, well-read, very bright, realistic and optimistic.
But of all the people I spoke and listened to last week, superintendent candidates included, I was most impressed by Quanasia Eiland, the Corcoran junior I chatted with briefly after Sharon Contreras’ address.
Myself an eternal optimist, I was shocked to see middle- or high-school aged students at the receptions. Elementary school-aged kids can’t do anything but be dragged to gatherings by their parents, but I know better about the pre-teen and teenaged set. The fact that there were students listening attentively to the two candidates was a pleasant surprise, especially considering of the entire student body of 20,000 students, the turnout of parents was paltry.
Still, when I sat down to talk with Quanasia, I was blown away. She said she’d attended the receptions both Tuesday and Wednesday nights with her grandfather.
After Tuesday’s reception, she discussed Bernard Taylor Jr., the other candidate for the top district spot, with her grandfather. She planned to do the same after Wednesday’s event.
Had her grandfather required that she come listen to the candidates? No, she said, she was interested in hearing what they had to say and it was something that she often talks about with her grandfather.
She felt Contreras’ talk offered specific examples of what could be improved in the Syracuse district, and how she’d accomplished her goals at other districts. Quanasia saw that as a sign that she was “serious” about her intentions and that she had the plans to back up what she said she would do here.
Taylor, on the other hand, was all talk, Quanasia felt. Sure, he made the crowd chuckle, but that isn’t what Syracuse needs, she said.
What does it need? Teachers that keep students’ interest, Quanasia said. For the community to support the district consistently, not just on special occasions. And for all schools in the district to enforce the same policies when students leave school early or are absent.
When the superintendent candidates stepped up to the podium, I didn’t expect either of them to offer specific, step-by-step instructions for how to get Syracuse city schools back on track. The whole thing struck me as a little too similar to a campaign race to expect hard facts and plans.
Of course, when I sat down to talk to Quanasia, I didn’t know what to expect, either. What I got was a reminder of how important it is to select the next leader of our school district wisely. The children in those schools are not just walking numbers and test scores. And they are aware of far more than we give them credit for. Maybe we should ask for their input, too.
Ami is the editor of The Eagle. Reach her at email@example.com.