Nashville should boldly lead the way in school director search

A couple of years ago, Rip Van Winkle awakened after 100 years of sleep to see what the world had become.

As he rubbed his eyes, so the story goes, Van Winkle was amazed by the wondrous changes that had occurred during his century of somnolence.  Automobiles, airplanes, space ships, telephones, radio, television and the internet left him gasping with excitement.

Then he visited a 21st century classroom, where, at last, he found a rectangular room, with a teacher and blackboard up front and students seated at desks.  Finally, he thought, something that  hadn’t changed!

I came across this illustration last year while doing some research on education for Nashville’s mayoral campaign.  While looking at multitudinous studies, this image kept floating back into my consciousness.  Now, as we watch Metro Nashville wrestle with a selection of a new director  to lead our public schools, the Van Winkle image has emerged again.

Metro Nashville has a tremendous opportunity to offer innovative educational leadership while making a selection that could change the course of education for, perhaps, the next half-century.   But, we can’t be bound by the traditions of conventional educational thinking.  We cannot continue to do the same thing over and over hoping for different results.

If ever there were a time for “thinking outside the box;” it is now.

Don’t be beholden to a process which limits selection to those who apply.  There may be some outstanding candidates, but why should we look only at a set of people (applicants) who want to move up the ladder or have “qualified” by doing the same thing over and over again, either here or elsewhere?

Don’t be constrained by the traditional “qualifications” of educational administration. The search committee should consider establishing some criteria that that might include success in a field other than education.  Who would a Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or Martha Ingram look for to address this challenge?

Finally, our director should have both passion as well as compassion. The ideal candidate should be passionate about: results, children, teachers, parents and should possess the sensitivity to discern the challenges faced by each of those constituencies.

Most importantly, the finest candidate may not even know they are a candidate; they may have to be sought out and convinced that Nashville is a place ready to embrace innovative ideas as well as fresh directions.  Let’s go recruiting, here at home and on a  national level. We are in search of a leader who will inspire all interest groups to join together in finding a better way.

Maybe, just maybe, if ole Rip revisited Nashville after a second nap of 10 years, he might be astounded at what has changed in education here.  This is Nashville’s moment; hopefully, it will not be our final opportunity to boldly lead the way.

Bo Roberts is a Nashville marketing consultant and managing partner of Roberts Strategies.