The Long Beach Unified school board hopes to have a successor for its longtime education chief selected in early May.
That decision was one of many the board voted on during its Wednesday, Jan. 22, meeting to shape the process for replacing Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, who announced last month his intention to retire effective July 2.
Steinhauser has led the district for 18 years.
The five-member panel tasked with choosing the next person to fill the district’s top job laid out a plan on Wednesday for selecting candidates and ensuring the public gets an opportunity to provide input. The parameters the board approved are to:
• Limit the search to candidates from within California;
• Appoint a new superintendent on May 6;
• Use Long Beach Unified’s internal staff for the recruitment, rather than hiring an external firm;
• Distribute an online survey to the public and hold at least one town hall meeting in each Board of Education district to answer questions and solicit feedback;
• Create an advisory committee of roughly 25 people with representatives from community groups including Californians for Justice, the Khmer Parents Association and the Coalition for Involved African-American Parents, among many others; and
• Keep the finalists confidential until a successor is named.
Some of those criteria were more controversial than others, particularly after residents spoke during the public-comment period to call for a transparent, nationwide search.
“I am here to ask for an open process where you’re including the community,” Martha Cota, a member of Latinos In Action, said in Spanish. “Something I think is important would be to maybe hire a company or someone that could help us in this process of finding the new superintendent, someone that can help find a superintendent that helps with equity and justice for all students.”
Board Vice President Juan Benitez advocated for that approach, as well as broadening the scope of the search to the entire nation and naming the finalists publicly to allow for residents to provide feedback. He said taking those routes could make the process more inclusive.
“The way that institutions, in particular educational institutions, uphold the commitment to community engagement, to equity, to access, to diversity, is through our policies and our practices,” he said. “The process that we’re going to use for arguably the most important decision this board will make needs to uphold those values.”
But he was the only member of the board to favor those three changes.
Other board members said they also wanted the process to be as inclusive as possible, but didn’t believe that Benitez’s preferences were the only way to achieve that outcome.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we all want to be inclusive in this process,” board member Megan Kerr said.
Other considerations — such as preferring candidates to have a familiarity with California school systems, the district’s ability to run a recruitment process more quickly than an outside firm and allowing candidates to maintain confidentiality so they do not need to alert their employers unnecessarily — ultimately won out.
Board member Jon Meyer, for his part, said it was important to remember that the final decision will ultimately be up to the board and not the public, no matter how the process plays out.
“Let’s face it folks,” he said to his colleagues. “It’s going to come down to us to make the choice. Let’s not weasel out of it. Let’s accept that responsibility.”