New Ann Arbor superintendent sets the right tone, offers reason for hope
It would be easy to see the Ann Arbor school board's recent superintendent search as something less than a full success.
With the district having seen six superintendents over the last decade, the desire to get this choice right was deep and obvious. The process generally went well—for the most part, it was timely, transparent and collaborative. Despite some polite disagreement as the search narrowed, the board members ultimately voted unanimously to offer the job to their top choice, Brian Osborne of South Orange Maplewood School District in New Jersey.
But then things changed. Osborne's answer unexpectedly took more than a week to arrive; when it did, it turned out to be no. That left the school board choosing among less-than-ideal options: Should it move on to its second choice? Start over? Or what?
Trustees eventually decided to offer the job to their other finalist—essentially, their second choice—Jeanice Kerr Swift, an assistant superintedent in Colorado Springs. But the vote to make that offer, unlike the first, was a less-than-encouraging 4-3.
It was awfully hard not to think, "Here we go again." Then Swift went into action.
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com file photo
Despite the fact that she's never held the top job in a school district, Swift's experience impresses. She comes from a larger district than Ann Arbor, yet one that's already faced some of the same challenges we do. She's been involved with "zero-based budgeting" and has dealt with financial constraints, redistricting and building closures.
Stakeholders in the education community have stressed openness and accountability will be critical traits for the new superintendent. That's certainly true, and here again, Swift appears to be a good fit. She already plans to host forums at every school building, conduct a thorough analysis of every department, and take a fresh look at the budget. In fact, some of this is already underway.
Yes, so far it's mostly words. But they're undoubtedly the right sort of words, and they offer encouragement to a schools community that's been through a pretty rough period. With Swift leading the way into the new school year, the district seems well positioned to finally move past its recent struggles and return to the institution the community expects and deserves it to be.