Time Is Right for New School Leadership

The Florida Times Union, February 29, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Time Is Right for New School Leadership


The golden rule of a good life is simple. Did you leave things better than you found them?

That applies to work and family and the larger community, as well.

Ed Pratt-Dannals can be assured that he left the Duval County public school system much better than he found it.

High school graduation rates were up over 11.4 percent in five years, including 4.6 percent last year. And 85 percent of Duval County schools scored A, B or C in state grades.

"It's been a great ride," he said at a news conference Monday, explaining some of the factors behind his decision to retire at the end of the year.

A MUTUAL DECISION

Pratt-Dannals said both he and key board members arrived at the same conclusion, that he should call it quits at the end of his contract. He will have spent about five years as superintendent.

That's the typical fate of chief executives of large urban school districts. Three to four years is basically the life span. And in these tough times, one year was more like 10, he said Monday.

Board Chairwoman Betty Burney wrote that the board would be seeking "transformational leadership" in its next superintendent. That's a loaded term, though, because it's what they thought they had in former superintendent Joey Wise.

He left with a system in turmoil. Wise's commitment to Advanced Placement exams looked good on national metrics but included students in college level courses who couldn't even read at grade level. He had also been hired away from his Delaware school district when it was about to plunge into financial turmoil.

A COOL, STEADY HAND

Pratt-Dannals was the perfect antidote to Wise's bull-in-a-china-shop style. Pratt-Dannals had spent decades in the Duval County public schools at almost every possible level of management.

He can be proud that graduation rates were real, that Duval County has had the most difficult standards in the state for the last six years.

Similarly, Duval is a state leader in the number of high school graduates who are ready for college, a key quality indicator.

So why did he decide it was time to leave? The job is incredibly demanding. A superintendent can go to a meeting every night when there are more than 100 schools under his purview.

Warning signs were raised in his most recent evaluation when most board members questioned some of his personnel decisions.

A related indicator was the need to rally the community and better collaborate with businesses and nonprofits.

But Pratt-Dannals' performance cannot be viewed in isolation. He serves at the pleasure of the board. And under his leadership, the board developed a meaningful strategic plan and evaluation of the superintendent based on that plan.

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