The hiring process for a school district’s top educator is usually the task of the elected school board members, but with the Chester-Upland School District (CUSD) currently under state receivership, the Delaware County Intermediate Unit (DCIU) is leading the national search for a permanent superintendent to succeed Dr. Juan Baughn, who is set to be relieved from his interim position in July.
To keep the CUSD community voices amplified, despite state control, DCIU solicited resident input through focus groups that took place in municipalities within the district, last week. In an open forum, where respondents remained anonymous, residents at length expressed attributes and characteristics of a model superintendent.
“You need to be a part of (the community), not up here and looking down here, looking at the Chester community as a poor, minority…drug infested, horrible and worst-in-the-country district. We’re not,” one respondent said at Monday night’s first focus group at Chester High School.
Other residents also expressed the need for prospective candidates to have experience in navigating an urban school district, especially the only city district in the county.
In the last decade, CUSD has experienced a high turnover rate in superintendents, each racked in a base salary of roughly $250,000 a year. The attractive salary and the district’s prevailing reputation led some residents to suspect that most of the educators only sought employment “to pad their resume.”
The constant turnover and the suspicion of educators taking on the role for personal interests, according to residents, generated a disconnect with the community. For that reason, residents requested that the new superintendent possess empathy and the ability to spark “a desire,” as one person described, in education among students and parents.
Resident-participants in the focus group also expressed skepticism toward the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s presence for the last two decades and the Morton-based DCIU entity’s involvement in selecting another “outsider” to fill the job of superintendent.
“The state was supposed to take us up, but it has only brought us down,” one resident said. “The state and politics moved us backwards.”
One jarring observation at Monday night’s focus group was the very low attendance, especially among parents. Only 11 respondents attended and attendees raised an issue with the continuous “parental apathy” in the district. Additionally, the only elected school board members identifiably present were President Anthony Johnson and member Tyra Quail.
The apathy is also evident in the results of the DCIU’s “CUSD Superintendent Leadership Qualities Survey Overview,” which garnered 83 responses out of 416 people actually seeing the survey. More than half of the respondents (56 percent) were CUSD faculty and staff, while only 10.5 of the respondents were parents of children educated in the district. There was also a 2.11 percent response rate among CUSD board members
However, attendees blamed DCIU for faulty advertising for the low focus group attendance and survey response rates.
“This is Delaware County Intermediate Unit, and as the community sees it, it’s an outsider,” one resident said. “You advertised these meetings like it was a suburban district and it’s not. You have to advertise your meetings like you’re in Chester…with our parents. You live in a different community.”