The change was inevitable. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of the Proviso Township high schools for seven years, had to go. And last week she announced her decision to leave the troubled district at the close of this new school year.
The results of last spring’s school board election assured Collins-Hart’s departure. The election of a reform slate and the creation of a new board majority made clear the determination of voters to remake these schools. Elections have consequences.
Yet we are impressed by the path this process has taken from both the side of the school board and the sitting superintendent. Certainly in the days after the election rout of the politically infused slate backed by longtime District 209 major domo and now State Rep. Chris Welch, there were calls for the head of the superintendent.
But the new board members wisely held back, saying they didn’t know Collins-Hart and that she deserved the opportunity to work with a new board. For her part, Collins-Hart has acted professionally and in her resignation announcement last week pledged to make the transition “both seamless and positive.” Kudos to her.
The year ahead, with the resignation on record, offers both the new board and Collins-Hart the opportunity to work in a different, unguarded fashion. The die is cast, there is no need to hold back, protect turf, pussyfoot around hard choices. If both sides approach this “politics-free” year with good will, a lot of good work can be done and a lot of rot can be cleared so a new superintendent enters a more stable district.
The early notice also gives this new board the great opportunity to move thoughtfully and deliberately toward the single most important decision any board ever makes: the hiring of a superintendent, a board’s only employee.
And we’d suggest that this search is especially complex. D209 is a troubled school district. It has a bright, sincere but rookie board majority. And that majority does not want to make superficial changes; it wants to remake the culture and the mission of a district that has been politically driven and educationally and financially toxic for decades.
D209 does not need a new superintendent recycled out of the pool of usual suspects. The search process for superintendents is a remarkably, discouragingly inbred machine in which a small number of former superintendents work for a handful of executive search firms specializing in this niche.
This school board ought to consider alternatives to the typical search firm route. The gamble here is that this new board needs both a person with some experience in the arcane aspects of public education but with decidedly new thinking about how to turn this district in wholly new directions.
We have been very tough on D209 and, by extension, Supt. Collins-Hart. But we do not doubt her sincerity and she does get credit for bringing a necessary stability to the superintendent’s role after a bizarre period of perpetual turnover in her office.
Now on to the future.