Mount Diablo School District Board moves quickly to replace fired superintendent

By Denisen Hartlove on May 6, 2013

The Mount Diablo Unified School District is wasting no time searching for a replacement for Superintendent Dr. Steven Lawrence, who was fired last month.

At a series of MDUSD board meetings lasting until late in the nights, plans were made by members to interview interim superintendent candidates in an open session with stakeholder groups on May 14, with a vote for approval May 20.

Between Lawrence’s failed anti-Clayton Valley High School charter PR campaign, a FCMAT report fiasco that resulted in sharp words from the County Board of Education President, and the recent controversy over conflicts of interest in MDUSD contract talks, not many people were surprised by Lawrence’s forced departure.

“I think that there has been low morale with a lot of teachers and administrators, and also that there are a lot of parts of the community that don’t feel very connected or supported by the district,” said MDUSD board member Brian Lawrence.

Clayton Valley Charter High Executive Director David Linzey’s previous position was as a district superintendent (although for a significantly smaller district). He wasn’t surprised to hear of Lawrence leaving. “Unfortunately, it was pretty apparent that the district was at a standstill,” he said. “There was difficulty in the governance team, and so when the district’s not moving forward, something has to happen.”

With a central administration managing policies for 36,000 students at 53 separate schools, there has been some question as to whether MDUSD is too large and spread out to be managed effectively. School officials disagreed, however, that geography and number of students are at the root of the district’s growing woes.

“It’s not the size that is the issue. It’s the effectiveness of leadership,” said Linzey. “It’s too large if there’s not unity, there’s not vision, there’s not clarity of purpose around which visions are made.”

The district is moving fast to get back on its feet and find an interim as well as a permanent superintendent to lead the way.

“We’re going to get somebody who can hit the ground running,” said Board President Cheryl Hansen. “We need stability right away, to reassure people.”

While searching for an interim superintendent, the district is also requesting proposals from three or more different search agencies to find a new permanent superintendent. One such proposal offered services in the $30,000 range. The board hopes to approve a contract in early May to begin the search.

Hansen said that her hope is to find someone who is able to manage the district as a whole, through everything from budget cuts to union negotiations to testing protocols, while still taking into account the needs of the many different constituents. These include but aren’t limited to special-needs students, English learners, to those interested in AP classes.

“You have to be able to find out what each community needs, instead of a one-size-fits-all that you just try to cram into people,” she said. “It’s not impossible to do. But it’s tough.”

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