David Jennings resignation unfortunate

Finding a qualified superintendent is no easy task. Instead of putting a lot of time and money into a national search to find a superintendent to lead the largest school district in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education smartly promoted one of their own – David Jennings.

The current interim superintendent was second in command until Carol Johnson resigned last summer. Jennings lacks the education degrees most superintendents have, but Johnson and board members agreed he was highly qualified. Although the board should have communicated more with the public and considered a broader range of candidates before offering Jennings the position, it should be applauded for its ingenuity in its choice.

Amid distracting squabbles about his qualifications and a legal challenge from a small but vocal black lobby, Jennings, who is white, turned down the job offer rather than force the district to endure costly court battles. Jennings had a valid right to fight to keep the position; however, he honorably chose to not defend this right and instead acted in what he considered the district’s best interest.

More education administration training programs and increased in-district staff recruiting and promotion are trying to stave off the coming shortage of superintendents. Eighty percent of school superintendents are now at retirement age, according to a 2000 poll by the American Association of School Administrators. This poll also found 88 percent of school superintendents characterized the imminent shortage as “a serious crisis in American education.”

Although the Minneapolis Public Schools are missing out on a good administrator, the greater loss belongs to the entire education community. With a shrinking pool of superintendents, and, according to Jennings’ calculations, the average urban school head lasting only a little more than two years, districts need new and innovative ways to obtain and retain competent personnel. This would have been a chance to test an unconventional but capable candidate.