Last night, Dr. Kriner Cash took part in his public interview for the vacant superintendent position in New Bedford.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve found the winner.
Cash was not as dynamic as advertised (at least in the interview) — we didn’t get to see much of the “rockstar” persona that was advertised in last Sunday’s ST feature. Perhaps this was by design, as the seemingly subdued Cash presented himself as articulate and knowledgeable. He answered the school committee’s questions with confidence but never came off as arrogant, which was a common complaint of his former district.
Cash was able to charm the school committee with engaging answers. He gave some insight into how he would transition from being the “CEO” of a very large district in Memphis to being more hands-on in the much smaller New Bedford schools. He talked of comprehensive solutions to issues like the dropout rate, which he explained could not be fixed by targeting 11th and 12th graders, but should be addressed with fixes in early education to improve the whole “pipeline.” He was also strong when it came to discussing business management, providing the best approach of the three candidates. Cash described a strong relationship with the Memphis (and would be New Bedford) community as well as positive relations with the union.
I noticed more engaging, more practical follow-up questions from the committee, which I would take as a sign of confidence in Cash.
It was not all positive (from my perspective). While Cash was strong and engaging, he mentioned his affinity for the Teach for America program, of which I’m not a fan. He also talked at length about value incentives, aka merit pay for teacher performance. Additionally, he explained the “accomplishment” of opening a STEM virtual high school in Memphis. While these aren’t the type of infractions that would dismiss him as a candidate, they are speed-bumps and deserve some consideration.
While I’m disappointed no one asked the question I wanted to hear answered (How do you feel about leaving Memphis, where you made upwards of $300,000 annually and had a personal driver for New Bedford, where you’ll be lucky to get half as much?), I found that Cash communicated more than either of the previous candidates.
If I had to guess, I would anticipate Cash gets the job by a pretty wide margin. If I had to make the decision myself, it would be a close call between him and Durkin, with Durkin likely getting the nod from me.
For what it’s worth, many of the people I spoke to were pleased by Cash and terrified of Durkin. They worry that Durkin may be a Bonner 2.0. I have the same reservations about Cash. He’s an outsider potentially entering a very insular school district that’s resistant to the kind of change he may want to implement, and he’s no stranger to criticism and divisiveness. Just ask Memphis.
That said — we need a superintendent to get New Bedford where it needs to be and the candidates interviewed have the qualifications to do so. We should rid ourselves of Bonner Disorder (in which we automatically think every candidate that interviews well is going to end up being a wolf in sheep’s clothing) and select the best candidate based on the interviews and next week’s site visits. After the choice is made, community leaders, committee members and various other factions need to throw full support behind that person and get off on the right foot.
If not, we may have to face the reality that the common denominator in our district’s issues isn’t uncooperative superintendents, but an uncooperative district.