Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Marathon Men: Would-be Memphis School Superintendents Get Specific

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The two finalists for Memphis City Schools superintendent are both in it to win it.

Kriner Cash and Nick Gledich made that clear as much by their actions as their words. Each one answered questions for more than two hours Wednesday. But, most significantly, they showed a serious interest in the job just by showing up.

Two of the five finalists previously dropped out, and there were fears that Cash and/or Gledich might follow suit in the wake of bad publicity about MCS and Mayor Willie Herenton's dismissal of them as "third-rate" applicants.

Both Cash and Gledich showed an awareness of local current events, and both made references to hot topics such as the sexy dance caught on tape at Mitchell High School, the low graduation rate, and the City Council's school budget cuts.

The protocol Wednesday was for Cash, then Gledich, to sit around a table with eight school board members (Kenneth Whalum Jr. was absent) and answer prepared questions, while television news cameras shot the whole thing and 25-40 spectators and reporters watched.

The questions were more timely and pointed than the general thumb-suckers in the first round, but there were no direct references to Herenton, school closings, race (Cash is black and Gledich is white), charter schools, or optional schools -- all hot-button issues in the real world of MCS.

Both Cash and Gledich showed moments of passion and spontaneity. Cash, who is from the Dade County school system in Miami, said "heads will roll behind something like that" if there is a recurrence of the Mitchell High School incident at a school function. Interim Superintendent Dan Ward brought national attention to the simulated-sex "dance" by going on the Bill O'Reilly show. Cash said MCS needs "quick wins" next year, more emphasis on applied education matched to workforce needs, and its own security force apart from the Memphis Police Department.

A finalist in other cities, Cash said he has "placed Memphis at the very top of my list at this time," but he has two caveats. One is the timing -- the decision must come by June 11th, as the board has promised. And "political issues" must be resolved in a way that maintains the autonomy of the school board and superintendent apart from the city mayor and county government.

Gledich, who is from Orlando, Florida, gave his most definitive answer when asked if he would take the job if offered and be ready to go to work July 1st.

"Yes," he said. And that was all. Otherwise, Gledich seemed slightly more long-winded than Cash, although both men stayed within the roughly three-minute time limit for each question. He emphasized his background as a teacher, principal,and administrator with the same school system for 30 years.

Something about that 30-year mark was important," he said, adding that his wife, who was present for the interview, wants him to work another 10-12 years. He said he would be willing to spend those years in Memphis if asked.

Both candidates said they are opposed to corporal punishment.

Gledich said he has paddled children as a teacher and principal but gave it up some 20 years ago. Cash said that as a boy he was paddled himself by his father but agrees with studies that show it is ineffective in the school system.

The two finalists will be in Memphis Wednesday and Thursday for additional meetings with principals and the general public.

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