Editorials

Missouri education board should engage the public on replacement for Chris Nicastro

Missouri schools, like Trailwoods Elementary in Kansas City, deserve a first-rate commissioner. The state Board of Education must be transparent about its selection process.
Missouri schools, like Trailwoods Elementary in Kansas City, deserve a first-rate commissioner. The state Board of Education must be transparent about its selection process. The Kansas City Star

Public education in Missouri is confronted with breakaway movements, curriculum controversies, teacher evaluation issues and still no consensus on what to do about failing school districts.

And that’s just for starters.

So why is the state Board of Education in a big hurry to vote on a new commissioner after a closed-door selection process? Board president Peter Herschend has said the panel may select a replacement for Chris Nicastro as early as Monday.

That would be a mistake. The board and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have a serious trust deficit with many Missourians. An arrogant, secretive hiring process for the top education post would widen the rift and place the new commissioner at an instant disadvantage.

Nicastro’s tenure was rocked by controversy, some of it of her own making. State school board members should use her resignation as an opportunity to hold hearings and talk to stakeholders about their hopes and fears for Missouri’s schools and the qualities they’d like to see in a commissioner. They would find the process enlightening.

The Missouri General Assembly has been too polarized and beholden to special interests and wealthy contributors to craft good legislation dealing with challenges facing school districts and charter schools. That gives the commissioner’s post outsized significance.

Choosing a leader is the most important task that Gov. Jay Nixon’s appointed school board will take on. Members should spend the time needed to get it right.

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