The Charleston County School Board’s 5-4 vote Thursday on the choice of a new superintendent reflected continuing deep divisions about public education in our community. Indeed, that divided vote should give Dr. Gerrita Postlewait pause as she considers the board’s offer.
So should criticism of the selection process by some local leaders, including North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
The board is being criticized for not suspending the selection process in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME Church shootings. That would have allowed for more public involvement in the process, particularly among the black community. In retrospect, the board would have been well-advised to do so.
School board chairman Cindy Bohn Coats said the decision to proceed was agreed to by “all parties involved” in order to fulfill their responsibility to complete the process. “All the board agreed that the interviews should go forward,” she said Thursday. As part of that process, a period of an hour and 15 minutes was set aside for each candidate to meet the public, she said.
Controversy first began months ago when several board members individually talked with Dr. Postlewait before the hiring process formally began. Following criticism over those conversations, in which two of the three black trustees did not take part, the board subsequently undertook a formal process of accepting applications and vetting candidates.
So far, the critics are complaining mainly about the board, not Dr. Postlewait, who has strong credentials for the job.
Dr. Postlewait seemed neither daunted by the criticism of the process nor the close vote of the board in a statement released Thursday. She said she was “honored” by the opportunity to lead the district and “will work in good faith toward executing a contract.”
That task will require the concentrated attention of the full board, despite Thursday’s divided vote.
While the other two finalists were worthy contenders for the position, the candidate chosen by the board has an impressive record of achievement as an academic administrator — including 10 years as superintendent of the Horry County School District.
If Dr. Postlewait accepts the board’s offer to become superintendent, she will need united support, not just from those who selected her, but from those who favored either of the other two finalists for the job.
Clearly she understands that challenge. As she said in an interview, prior to her selection:
“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... There isn’t a ‘them’ or ‘us’ when it comes to the school board and superintendent.”
Running a sprawling school district — the state’s largest — with roughly 80 schools and more than 48,000 students across a large, diverse county is a challenging task, to say the least. If Dr. Postlewait is prepared to accept the job, she deserves a fair chance to succeed at it.