Interim Superintendent Welcomes Private Sector In Schoolimprovement Plans
By Candi Calkins
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Merrett Stierheim, interim superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said he welcomes private-sector initiatives to improve, including those planned by the Sterling committee being organized by the Coalition of Chambers of Commerce.
"I’m going to welcome their participation, support and involvement," Mr. Stierheim said. "I’m going to involve the private sector while I’m here."
Although Florida Sterling Council members will visit Miami in two weeks to meet with school administrators and business leaders, Mr. Stierheim said he has recommended that the chamber’s Sterling committee wait until early next year to take action.
The state agency for public accountability will issue a final report in January or early February on a review currently under way of Miami’s school system. Mr. Stierheim said he also is conducting his own surveys of school principals and teachers.
"I think we’d all be much better informed both from my analyses" and the state’s assessment, Mr. Stierheim said. "Then we could call a meeting of the full committee and we could develop strategies and decide how we want to proceed."
Mr. Stierheim was appointed to lead Miami-Dade County Public Schools through a transition following the September firing of former superintendent Roger Cuevas. Mr. Stierheim said he plans to advertise nationally for a search firm to find candidates for the superintendent’s job.
"We do things on a competitive basis here," Mr. Stierheim said. "I want to recommend one to the board that has extensive experience in recruiting educational professionals."
Miami business executives said a change in leadership for Miami-Dade County Public Schools has not dampened their resolve to work with the Florida Sterling Council to achieve better efficiency and productivity.
Business leaders already had lined up volunteers and appointed several committees to work on the Sterling process before the change in superintendents. The Sterling committee was created to offer volunteer services and private sector resources to help Miami schools meet the stringent award requirements.
Mr. Fred Messing, executive vice president and COO of Baptist Health Systems of South Florida, said that Mr. Stierheim has since tapped Sterling volunteers for other programs. While the Sterling executive committee met with Mr. Stierheim last week, the full committee has not yet met to plan a strategy.
"The structure is essentially ready to go at this point. It’s just a matter of whether that’s the right structure or the right group to accomplish" what Mr. Stierheim wants, Mr. Messing said. He said business leaders want to make sure their efforts are "complementary and supplementary to what he is doing."
Mr. Messing said he is spearheading efforts to work with the Florida Sterling Council, a nonprofit that gives the Governor’s Sterling Award to groups that excel in efficiency and performance excellence.
John Pieno, chairman of the Florida Sterling Council, said his organization has been working with Miami-Dade schools for more than a year. The Sterling process, which was approved by the school board, is already being implemented in 24 local schools.
A dozen candidates from Miami-Dade County were among 250 who recently took part in an examiners’ training session in Tallahassee. Examiners evaluate other schools and organizations, returning to their own groups with new expertise and understanding.
"We created experts and the school system uses them the way they need to," Mr. Pieno said.
In addition, Ralph Lewis, a Florida International University administrator who has training in the Sterling process, is on loan to help Mr. Stierheim with administrative duties in the school district.
Dr. Lewis has a doctorate of education from Harvard University and has pursued graduate studies in social ethics, human relations, counseling and planned change at the Boston University School of Theology.
In 1998, he served on the board of examiners for the Governor’s Sterling Award for Organizational Performance. He also has served as an examiner in 1996 for the Malcomb Baldridge National Quality Award, a nationwide award process on which the Sterling process is based.
Mr. Lewis has been at FIU since 1977, teaching public administration and criminal justice. As the university’s director of planning and institutional effectiveness he recently completed a five-year strategic plan for the university.
By February, Sterling examiners will start on-site visits to the 24 Miami-Dade County schools already involved in the process to gather feedback and discuss their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Later, the Sterling process will be expanded to other Miami-Dade schools.
"It’s not about an award. This is about building a school-improvement plan that is going to involve everybody in the system, all of the stakeholders," Mr. Pieno said. "We’re helping them on a continuous basis on whatever they need."
When the school system meets Sterling Award criteria, the designation would establish the Miami-Dade school district as a role model for other districts to follow.
"Once you identify these pockets of excellence, now they can share it with other schools," Mr. Pieno said.
Miami-Dade County, as the fourth-largest school district in the nation, he said, provides a unique challenge for the Sterling process.
"Just having everybody focused on the same goals, doing the same things, is kind of unusual in a school district of that size," Mr. Pieno said. "The benefits are they will have a clear picture of what they need to do to improve the performance of the schools."
The three advantages provided by the Sterling process include reduced expenses, improved efficiency and the delight and satisfaction of stakeholders, Mr. Pieno said. "It’s the right thing to do."