Our View: All three superintendent applicants are strong candidates




By the time you read this, the Columbus Municipal School District will likely have a new superintendent of schools. 


The CMSD Board of Trustees met Friday morning to choose from among three finalist the person who will lead the district. The new leader will be the fourth superintendent since 2012. 


Thursday evening at Joe Cook Elementary, citizens were provided a chance to listen to the finalists -- Dr. Otha Belcher Jr., Dr. Lois Kappler and Dr. Cherie Labat -- explain their visions and answer questions. 


We were encouraged not only by what we heard, but by the enthusiasm the community demonstrated. There were roughly 300 people in the audience, young and old, black and white. The audience listened attentively and appeared to be impressed with what they heard, based on casual conversations heard as they left the event. 


We, too, were impressed. All three candidates bring unique experiences, talents and qualities that would benefit the district. 


Dr. Kappler, whose background includes 18 years in the district as a teacher and administrator, brings a knowledge of the school district and the community that provide insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the district in a way the other candidates could not be expected to grasp, at least not immediately. We were particularly impressed with her very defined transition and management plan. 


Dr. Labat's energy and enthusiasm for students were qualities most noted among audience members. Her belief in engaging with the broader community is something that all three candidates embraced, but Labat's impressive list of community involvement left little doubt that her actions have matched her words. She also seems to have a thorough grasp of the mechanics of a healthy school district and the numbers that underlie it. 


Finally, Dr. Belcher's exposure to working through serious challenges as an assistant superintendent at deeply-troubled Jackson Public School District strongly suggests that he will not be overwhelmed by any challenges that currently exist in the CMSD. Of the three, he appears to be the most relaxed in public settings but is also a self-professed data junkie. 


All three candidates said it was important to empower and encourage teachers and staff. None embraced a "top-down" approach to education. All stressed that responsibility -- and the accountability that goes with it -- should be shared, not only among teachers and staff, but students, parents and the community. 


All three said one of the keys to achieve that will be a superintendent who is accessible to staff, students, parents and the community. That is something we've heard for years, but have seldom seen demonstrated. We hope the new superintendent will make good on that promise. 


The prevailing view of those who attended Thursday's meeting was that the CMSD Board has three qualified candidates from which to choose.  


No matter who is chosen, we believe the selection can be a pivotal moment in the history of our schools -- a new beginning.



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