Why Dr. Kriner Cash? This is a question that many of you have been asking. First, I want to be perfectly clear that my answer to that question is my personal response. I am not speaking on behalf of any other individual Board member or the Board as a body. Before answering the question, however, for context let’s take a look back at the “history” of this recent search for a Superintendent. I’ve only been involved in one other search for a Superintendent but I think it’s safe to say that, from the outset, the course of this search cannot be considered as a routine process.
The initial search actually focused on the selection of a Deputy Superintendent. The plan of majority board members was to elevate that individual to the Superintendent’s seat once Mr. Ogilvie departed. Minority Board members objected, as did the community, and advocated for a comprehensive search to include local and national applicants. The majority opposed this plan arguing for local candidates only. Yet, at the same time talks were underway between majority board members and at least one national candidate, the former Superintendent of Rochester Schools, Jean Claude Brizard. When Dr. Brizard declined and the Deputy Superintendent plan fell through an agreement was reached in early May to launch a wider search. By this time, however months had been lost and Mr. Ogilvie’s term was coming to a close on June 30th. While most members of the Board worked to come to consensus, Mr. Paladino refused to honor the search agreement. Determined to catapult his second internal candidate into the position, he refused to interview any candidates.
Setting an aggressive timetable, the remaining Board members pressed on reviewing and identifying prospective candidates to interview. Nearly 20 applications were submitted, but before interviews could be confirmed one of the most viable candidates withdrew his application. Five individuals – three internal and two external candidates -- were asked to submit a 100-day entry plan and were scheduled for interviews. Following their interviews, the two external candidates withdrew their names from further consideration. There was no consensus on finalists among the remaining candidates.
Enter Dr. Cash. I’ll be candid; I went into Dr. Cash’s interview with a preconceived bias and a determination to dismiss him as a viable candidate. My concern stemmed from the advocacy for Dr. Cash by New York State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia. Although the Board was at a critical juncture in the search process, the Commissioner’s involvement in a local personnel matter is unprecedented. It raised questions about the allegiance of this candidate, his philosophy and intentions regarding a reform agenda and his ability to act independently of Albany directives as well as the directives of the majority faction of the Board. An over-riding question; Will the Board be exchanging one handpicked superintendent for yet another? One who has Albany ties? During her first visit to Buffalo, just 9 days on the job, Commissioner Elia promised (some say threatened) to use the full authority of her position to impose change in the Buffalo Schools if the Board couldn’t get the job done. Finally, even as the State constructs the receivership model, the specter of Superintendent Receivership for 25 of our schools already underway added another complicating layer to the decision-making process. To say I was skeptical as we began the interview with Dr. Cash is probably an understatement.
I am a person who tries to keep an open mind, does the research, listens intensely and asks direct questions. I approached interviews of all the candidates in this manner. What I observed and concluded based on the questions (mine and others) asked of Dr. Cash in the interview and in subsequent conversations is that he:
● is focused on the job of educating children
● is a man not easily controlled by others; but he does seek consensus
● has experiences and successes (yes, and setbacks) in urban districts that will benefit the BPS
● has a quick wit matched by an ability to quickly size up people (political savvy)
● will hit the ground running to catch up to that learning curve
● is a relationship builder, who has the potential to unite factions of the Board
And yes, I did ask Dr. Cash those critical questions about his “reformer/deformer” mindset. His response is that he doesn’t describe himself in those terms; that he will do what is in the best interests of children; and that he does not see charter schools and other reform strategies as the sole answers to our problems. I asked about his ability to be his own man. He assured me that while the interaction he’s had with Commissioner Elia will help create a better relationship between the District and Albany, he is his own man. I even asked him about the rumor that he was a Jeb Bush man. His response was to share a photo of himself with the President, “his man”. These were the first, but certainly not the last of many candid conversations I will have with Dr. Cash. Will I hold Dr. Cash accountable? Yes, as I will myself.
Dr. Cash has a reputation for decisive, innovative and bold actions and he’s ruffled some feathers as a result. But he also has a track record of attaining school improvement. Our District is truly at the Crossroads…one road leading to state imposed receivership and the other to recovery and maintenance of our public school legacy. Dr. Cash deserves our support, collaboration and cooperation. The education of our children is at stake.