The District has struggled to recruit candidates to fill the city’s top education job, which has sat vacant nine months, according to a top elected official.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), chairman of the council’s education committee, said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) informed him months after she launched her search for a schools chancellor that the city had not received applications from many serious outside candidates.
Grosso said he tapped his network of education leaders but detected little interest in the job running the 49,000-student school system.
“Frankly, I did not hear a lot of enthusiasm from my channels to apply,” Grosso said in an interview. “You have to be pretty thick-skinned to be the [D.C. Public Schools] chancellor. You are under the microscope — not just locally but nationally, as well.”
The traditional public school system has been without a permanent leader since Antwan Wilson resigned as chancellor in February after a year on the job. Wilson left after officials revealed he had skirted the school placement process to transfer his daughter to a coveted high school.
Amanda Alexander, a school system veteran, was tapped as interim chancellor. She has built a team in the system’s central offices over the past nine months and is a candidate for the permanent position.
Bowser’s office declined to comment.
The mayor is expected to announce the next chancellor in coming weeks. The panel advising Bowser on the selection has completed a report outlining what the public hopes to see in the next chancellor. But the panel has not reviewed résumés of candidates the mayor is considering, which is required by city law.
Bowser’s office would not say whether the mayor would eventually provide the résumés to the panel, riling parents and union leaders who had called for a transparent search. Bowser’s office said the mayor would follow the law when selecting the chancellor.
Paul Reville, a former Massachusetts secretary of education and a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said jurisdictions across the country with chancellor openings have struggled to attract top candidates.
Reville, who does not have inside knowledge about the D.C. selection, said several factors could deter qualified candidates from applying. Among them: the fate of the previous chancellor. Reville said a strong internal candidate also could dissuade people from pursuing the post.
“What D.C. is experiencing is a fairly common problem that jurisdictions across the country are seeing,” Reville said. “As the topic of education gets drawn into the more general political controversies and nastiness that goes along with the political discourse these days, fewer people are willing to take the slings and arrow that come with these positions.”
Grosso said high-profile controversies that have plagued the school system have given potential candidates pause, including Wilson’s abrupt resignation and a graduation scandal that undermined recent successes.
In June, The Washington Post reported that a nationwide hunt for principals at four D.C. high schools had yielded few strong contenders.
The D.C. Council must confirm the mayor’s choice for chancellor. Grosso said he expects backlash against whomever the mayor selects but stressed that the school system needs to install a permanent leader soon.
“She will nominate someone, and there will be pressure for us not to approve someone — but then where does that leave us?” Grosso said.
Hanna Skandera, editor in chief of the Line, a publication for education leaders, said a city’s mayor figures prominently in determining who wants to apply to lead a school system.
“I know great leaders follow and take jobs where they believe there is a mayor who will back them,” said Skandera, who is not involved in the D.C. selection process.
Scott Goldstein, founder of EmpowerEd, a D.C. teacher advocacy organization, said he would like to see a chancellor who is willing to promote the positive work in the school system while addressing needed improvements.
“What I hope to see in the chancellor is someone who understands that we have to restore trust in our public schools,” Goldstein said. “Trust happens through a process, and we have to get that process right if we are going to set the path to get the new chancellor’s agenda right.”