The next leader of the troubled Detroit public schools hails from a district only one-twentieth the size of the Motor City’s, but she insists she can get the job done.
Connie Calloway, the superintendent of the 5,700-student Normandy, Mo., public schools, was hired by the Detroit school board March 8 by a vote of 7-3, with one abstention. She will start her new job in the 116,000-student district on July 1.
The vote came despite the concerns of a few board members and local activists who questioned whether Ms. Calloway is ready to tackle running a large district that’s hemorrhaging students, may have to close some 50 schools, and is in dire financial straits.
But board member Carla D. Scott, who led the search committee, said Ms. Calloway has proved her ability to turn around a district both financially and academically in Normandy, a high-poverty system northwest of St. Louis. “The truth of the matter is, there is no special messiah for urban education, so you have to look at the skill set,” said Ms. Scott. She added: “Either you have the leadership skills or you don’t.”
For her part, the 56-year-old Ms. Calloway said she’s up to the job, and she predicted that Detroit would soon find itself in a better position. “It’s doable,” she said of turning around Michigan’s largest school system. “People want it.”
Lamont Satchel, the district’s labor-relations chief, will serve as its interim superintendent. The same day it hired Ms. Calloway, the board voted 8-2 to oust Superintendent William Coleman III, who had vied to keep the job.
Asked why the board opted to dismiss Mr. Coleman three months before the end of his contract, Ms. Scott said the district needs more than a “lame duck” leader as it faces its challenges. Mr. Coleman could not be reached for comment.
The board’s choice of Ms. Calloway initially prompted some protests among local leaders, who said a broader search was needed to bring in more candidates. By last week, many of those complaints had subsided.
Jonathan Kinloch, who voted against hiring Ms. Calloway and criticized the ousting of Mr. Coleman, said he planned to back the incoming superintendent.
“Once the board made a decision, right or wrong or indifferent, the bottom line is we have to support the person in the office of general superintendent.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2007 edition of Education Week