The next leader of Fort Worth ISD will walk into a district with lower-than-ever student outcomes, a fractured community and a divisive political environment for education.
That task will be tough for whomever the school board taps. Finding the right person, though, likely will be a long process complicated by politics, societal change and a highly competitive market for superintendents.
This is the reality for the nine-member Fort Worth ISD school board as it begins to search for a replacement for Superintendent Kent Scribner, who announced Jan. 13 his plans to leave the district.
Board President Tobi Jackson told the Fort Worth Report more information about how trustees move forward will be released on Tuesday.
District officials expect Scribner, who has an annual salary of $330,000, to stay until a new superintendent is hired. The school board is scheduled to discuss Scribner’s plan during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18 in the Fort Worth ISD Professional Development Center, 3150 McCart Ave.
“We appreciate Dr. Scribner’s communication and transparency in sharing his plans,” Jackson said in a news release.
Scribner’s announcement caps a year that saw a community divided over whether the superintendent was the right person to turn around the district after years of poor student outcomes, a bitter debate over masks and how race is taught in schools, and a bond election that had far-reaching effects.
Superintendents in the nation’s largest school districts stay in their positions for about six years. The 2021-22 school year marked the start of Scribner’s seventh year leading Tarrant County’s largest district.
Jo Beth Jimerson is a professor in Texas Christian University’s College of Education who studies school leadership. Scribner’s exit hits at a time in which superintendents across Texas are leaving their jobs because of pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, politics and community, she said.
“That is going to complicate the search because if that’s happening on a systemic level, then you’re reducing the pool of excellent leaders from which you can choose,” Jimerson said.
One of the earliest decisions the school board will have to make is how it wants to conduct its superintendent search. Trustees could either hire a third-party firm or run the search through the district.
In 2015, the school board ran its superintendent search through Ray and Associates, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based company that specializes in finding school leaders. The firm found Scribner, then superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona, from a field of 67 candidates. The process took about a year after trustees’ first choice to replace Walter Dansby as superintendent backed out of the job.
Each option for the superintendent search comes with its own set of downsides, Jimerson said. Third-party firms can often push candidates who they know and prefer, she said. Doing it through the district’s existing human resources department could stretch staff thin, she said.
“The search firm gets you out of a political quagmire, but you may have a more closed pool of candidates or bringing in candidates that don’t really understand the context,” Jimerson said. “In-district searches can tend to expand that pool of applicants sometimes and bring in people closer to the context, but you may not get refreshed ideas.”
What will be key for Fort Worth ISD trustees is to have community buy-in for the next superintendent, Jimerson said. While a superintendent ultimately reports to the school board, residents cannot be excluded from the process, the professor said. She suggested the school board hold community forums to see what qualities would make for a good superintendent.
One advantage Jimerson sees for Fort Worth ISD is Scribner’s plan to stay on board until his successor is named. That gives trustees time to thoughtfully craft a search strategy as well as provides a built-in transition period, she said.
Scribner noted in his announcement his plans to help bridge his administration with the next.
“I stand ready to help facilitate a productive transition process to the extent and according to the timeline the board deems appropriate,” he wrote.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.