Thursday, May 15, 2008

Twenty-two Questions

Suggestions for what to ask candidates for Memphis schools superintendent.

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Three superintendent interviews down, two more interviews to go. So who should be the HNIC of the Memphis City Schools?

HNIC, as Mayor Willie Herenton and other fans of the 1989 movie Lean On Me know, stands for "head [N-word] in charge."

Don't worry. Nobody used those words this week in interviews for the best-paid government job in Memphis. They're taken from the movie about bat-wielding principal Joe Clark, played by actor Morgan Freeman. Herenton and some members of the Memphis City Council think a Clark-type is needed as the next school superintendent.

The school board and its search-team consultants have other ideas. The first round of interviews Monday and Tuesday consisted of a dainty game of "22 Questions" posed to each applicant, who had three minutes to respond to each question. Neither the applicants nor the board members had seen the questions prior to Monday afternoon.

This brings to mind a puzzle that ancient philosophers called the "Job Applicant's Dilemma": If the questions are secret and the interviews are seven days apart, should next week's job candidates Google the questions and look like a smartypants or not Google the questions and exhibit a stunning lack of curiosity and research skills?

Far be it from me to be a snitch, but here are 22 questions NOT on the list, which should give you some idea how the search is being conducted:

Should a fictionalized portrayal of a principal in a 20-year-old movie be the role model for the next superintendent?

Should a 6'-7" mayor and former superintendent be the role model?

Should an eighth-grader who is big, easily pissed off and has access to guns be paddled, suspended, or told to sit in the corner as punishment for bad behavior?

Should a first-grader who is shy, small, and gets smacked around at home be paddled for misbehaving in school?

Should the MCS dress code be strictly enforced? Define "strictly enforced."

Should the MCS mission statement, "Every Child. Every Day. College Bound.," be kept, modified, or abandoned?

Should every child pass through a metal detector every day?

Should the Memphis City Council withhold all, some, or none of the $93 million city contribution to schools this year, as has been proposed?

If your answer is "none," then should there be a 58-cent city property tax increase, as has been proposed?

Should the city and county school systems, which are both funded in large part by the county, be merged or kept separate? You have three minutes to answer.

Should city schools get $3 for building or renovating schools for every $1 the county schools get for construction?

Should the governor of Tennessee take over the Memphis City Schools this year or next year if they don't improve? By the way, name the governor. If you don't know, why are you here?

The Memphis Education Association has 6,350 members. Would you like to say a few words to them?

Within 10 percent, what are the annual operating budgets of the city of Memphis and Memphis City Schools? If you don't know, why are you here?

If the optimum size of a high school is 1,200 students, how many students should graduate each year? Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings wants to know.

If your answer to the above question is equal to or more than 125, what would you do about nine high schools that graduated fewer than 125 students in 2007?

Explain why Memphis rebuilt Manassas High School, which graduated 38 students in 2007, for $30 million.

Should Southwind High School, opened in 2007, be a city or county school?

Should the city school board, county school board, or developers with a vested interest choose new school sites in unannexed areas that are growing?

Should the school board get a raise, and should there be a school board at all?

Why are there no mayors among your references?

Are you sure you really want this job?

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