Friday, November 30, 2012

That's the Way We've Always Done It

Is it too soon to
Jeff Sparagana as
the new superintendent?
So here's what I'm thinking.

I'm thinking that the failure of the Pottstown School Board to hold a public meeting about hiring a new superintendent Tuesday, as had been tentatively scheduled, has a reason.

And I'm thinking the reason they didn't have a meeting is, they didn't need to.

This month it is officially 15 years since I arrived in Pottstown and was put on The Mercury pay roll.

In that time, I have watched new superintendent searches conducted in school districts from Daniel Boone, Owen J. Roberts (sometimes painfully), Spring-Ford, Phoenixville (sometimes expensively) and Boyertown.

I'm sure I missed some, but those are the ones I remember.

In all that time, however, I have never seen one conducted in Pottstown that looked beyond the borough border.

And I'm starting to think we're about to see the same thing happen again.

When I arrived, Frank Heifer was the superintendent and he had been an assistant to Ray Feick who preceded him. Then it was Tony Georeno, followed by David Krem and then Reed Lindley  all of whom had come up through the ranks of the school district.

There was never a 

terribly good explanation
offered for Lindley's departure
Now, with Lindley's sudden and unexplained departure many months before his contract ended, the school board seemed poised to begin an actual search outside the border.

This was due largely to the fact that the obvious successor, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Sparagana, having twice failed to secure the post, had announced his retirement prior to Dr. Lindley stepping down without warning.

Dr. Sparagana then agreed to delay his retirement until the end of the school year to give the board more time to find a replacement.

Still, in the arc of finding a new superintendent, six months is not a lot of time.

So why in the world would they cancel a meeting designed to get things started -- at least publicly.

Why indeed?

Well, being the amateur historian that I am, I firmly believe that  in most cases, past predicts future and if there is one past event in Pottstown that you can predict will occur again, it is promotion from within.

So am I saying I think Dr. Sparagana -- now finally sitting in the superintendent's chair -- likes the way it feels?

I am.

Am I saying that I think the Pottstown School Board would love to have one less major project on its plate, like searching far and wide for a new superintendent, and would equally love to offer a trusted familiar face a three-year contract?

I sure am.

How confident am I?

Pretty damn confident.

It was Mark Flanders' knowledge of

Pottstown and its employees that won
him the borough manager's job, council
members said when he was appointed.
Am I willing to put my money where my mouth is, always dangerous ground for an underpaid journalist?

Yes again.

So, it's official, I will bet anyone who thinks I'm full of it $25 that the next superintendent of the Pottstown School District will be Jeff Sparagana.

But before you put your money at risk, consider how we do things in Pottstown.

Over at Borough Hall, the insider candidate was chosen despite dozens of applications from those with more experience; and before April rolls around I think we will again see the insider, in this case Rick Drumheller, named the new police chief.

Understand, this is not to say that I think any of these folks will do a bad job. In fact all three mentioned here are quite competent and I suspect they'll do fine.

They are all dedicated and have all given years of service to this borough in one form or another. And yes, that should count for something.

As one person in a position to make these decisions told me, "I hate to disqualify someone just because he is local."

I think it likely Drumheller will be chosen as Pottstown's

new police chief.
But the best indicator, I think, of how Pottstown officials view these things, are the comments made by the borough council members during the obviously pre-arranged statements they made in support of the appointment of Mark Flanders as borough manager.

Several council members talked about his familiarity with the staff and how Pottstown works.

They said they valued that over hands-on experience running a municipality, a viewpoint which is not only their prerogative but perfectly valid.

But I suspect another familiarity was at play as well, the familiarity board members have with Flanders and, soon enough I suspect, a familiarity they have with Drumheller.

Why should the school district, which has the longest record of promoting from within and valuing familiarity, change their ways now?

The only minds they would need to change are Dr. Sparagana and his family.

And after all, that's the way we've always done it.


  1. I'm not betting on this one Evan, I don't have an extra $25 on retirement income - LOL - 15 years and still elected officials break out in the hives at the mere whif of the notion that they may have to exercise the muscles between their ears and take a RISK to go outside the "known entities."

    As a relative newcomer to Pottstown, the logic escapes me when compared to other communities where I've lived, new vistas of thought and ideas are actually desirable when seeking solutions to weighty challenges.

    The borough pays for analysis, plans, information, consultations that resonate for a few months then disappear, for what? Nobody want to apply themselves to the implementation? Is it laziness or something more?

    I'm convinced we'll not find the practical solutions we seek until we bring people of varied experiences into the fold. If it takes another 15 years to accomplish, we'll be sunk.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Great article Evan! I doubt you will have any takers on that bet! This whole borough/school process reminds me of that famous Einstein quote "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
      I think a new Chief of Police (preferably a minority, from another city) would be a great choice for Pottstown.