Q&A: CCSD Superintendent candidate Gerrita Postlewait

Gerrita Postlewait, one of three finalists for superintendent of Charleston County School District, meets Daryl Evans (from right), Elliot Ditlihay, Kathleen Magliacane and Yvonne Marshall during her visit Monday to the district offices.

For Gerrita Postlewait, a candidate for superintendent of the Charleston County School District, this is the work she’s been “called to do.”

She’s the first of three candidates to formally interview this week for the position and meet with the community over the next two days. The school board is making each candidate available for public interviews: Lisa Herring will be interviewed on Tuesday and Terri L. Breeden on Wednesday. The Post and Courier will interview each candidate as they become available.

Postlewait graduated with a doctorate from West Virginia University, and started her career in education administration in 1986 as superintendent of Wetzel County Schools in West Virginia. She moved to Horry County in 1992 to serve as chief academic officer and interim superintendent. She was promoted to superintendent in 1996 after the previous superintendent resigned. She stepped down from that role a decade later after her father died to help care for her ailing mother in Phoenix, Ariz.

From 2006 to 2013, she was the chief K-12 officer for the Stupski Foundation, a San Francisco-based education reform nonprofit. She later worked for the innovation arm of ACT, the college-entrance exam developer. She left her role at ACT earlier this year in order to apply for the open superintendent position.

Postlewait, who hails from Georgetown County, said she’s ready to get back in the field.

“This district has some of the most outstanding schools in the nation and this district has some of the most challenged schools the nation,” she said. “I’d like to have the opportunity to make sure all of our children are prepared for the best opportunity we can provide.”

Postlewait described her vision for the job and how she’d tackle some of the district’s most pressing problems, like underachieving schools and de-facto segregation. (Answers have been edited for length.)

Q: You’ve haven’t led a school district for almost 10 years. What about your past experience do you feel prepares you to helm the second largest school district in the state?

A: When I worked in Horry County, I was working in the third largest school district in the state. There are many similarities between that district and this one. The (Horry County) district has those local advisory boards and local constituent boards... What is absolutely the same as the work in Horry or Charleston or any other school district is the opportunity to make some changes in the educational system so the system itself better addresses the needs of all learners so that the outcomes are drastically improved over the outcomes we’re seeing today.

Q: The previous superintendent had a somewhat contentious relationship with the members of the school board. One school board member has even called for your removal from the candidate pool. What would you do to cultivate a cooperative relationship with the school board?

A: The board and superintendent need to be a team in order for the district to move forward. We’ve got to find common understanding of what our work is together. We have to have shared goals in terms of what this district needs to do. We have to establish some ways of working together, communicating together and ensuring no board member is left out of the loop, and understanding that we hold in trust the future of this district. There isn’t a “them” or “us” when it comes to the school board and superintendent.

Q: Many of CCSD’s schools are heavily segregated by racial and socio-economic lines. What would you do to improve diversity across the district?

A: I think it’s pretty clear to all of us that with diversity comes strength. That’s a critically important value. The question is how racial and socio-economic divides manifest themselves in student achievement. One of the brutal facts we have to confront is that the schools are not only divided by demographic issues, they’re separated on achievement issues. That’s where the larger issue lies.

Critical, though, is this urgent need to address the readiness of children at every transition point in the system so when we set up a magnet school, we ensure every single school in the district that might feed that magnet school is producing kids who have the achievement levels and talents they need to be admitted.

Q: In recent years, CCSD has expanded school choice by opening more magnet, Montessori, charter and other nontraditional schools. What’s your position on school choice?

A: I wholeheartedly endorse the concept of school choice. As a parent, that’s what I would have wanted. As an educator, I find that having the opportunity to be part of a professional learning community that shares the same values about the approach or belief system about instructional strategies is very uplifting. However, choice without some accountability measures or structures in place to guarantee quality is bound to create adversity in the long run.

Q: Here and across the country, more parents are opting their children out of high stakes tests. What role do you think standardized testing should have in the classroom?

A: I think standardized, end-of-the-year testing plays a really important role in how we’re performing compared to others like us across the country and across the world.... We have too much focus on the end-of-the-year testing and not enough investment and focus on the real-time feedback loops that help teachers, parents and children adjust immediately, so that no child is languishing.

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.