Commissioner Nicastro recently announced her retirement effective at the end of the calendar year. Given the state of things in Missouri (unaccredited schools, MSIP5, Accredited with Distinction, learning standards rewrite, new online testing, underfunded formula, etc.), school leaders are concerned who the new Commissioner might be.
Those concerns were not alleviated at the recent MSBA/MASA fall conference. During a conference session with State Board of Education members the President of the Board intimated that the selection of a new Commissioner would be swift, closed, and without input from stakeholders. I'm not sure his view aligns with the entire Board, but the comments only increased concerns.
During the last search for a Commissioner several names were being thrown around. The same thing is happening this time. For a moment though, let's not think in terms of WHO the Commissioner might, or should be, but rather in terms of what leadership qualities will be needed for the next Commissioner to be successful.
At the outset it is important that a new Commissioner rebuild trust and confidence in the department and the office. The department has been decimated by budget cuts. As such the department made a pendulum swing from assistance to regulation. It's time to increase two-way communication, transparency, and get more practitioners in the department in order to rebuild trust. Those in the field need to know that folks in the department understand the implications on local schools of the rules and requirements being enacted.
The next Commissioner must understand that Missouri has diverse schools. Boards of Education across Missouri are opposing Amendment 3 because it forces a one-size-fits-all approach on Missouri schools. The next Commissioner needs to understand that Missouri has diverse schools, much of which is determined by the community make up and culture. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
The next Commissioner must be able to assess and define the reality of Missouri education and put supports in place to assist districts of varying make up. Perhaps a restructuring of the department is necessary to start an Office of Urban Education with experts in moving urban districts forward. An Office of Rural Education is probably also warranted because rural districts have unique needs as well.
The next Commissioner must be politically savvy. He or she will have to work with a Democrat Governor and a Republican Legislature. The Commissioner must help both get past ideology and think in terms of sound, pragmatic public policy for Missouri schools.
The list could go on for some time, but I'll stop here. The challenges the next Commissioner will face are numerous. The State Board of Education must take the time to get the selection right.