When someone or something is labeled interim, it heralds a temporary situation: an intervening time period. In music, the interim element is a bridge, connecting sometimes disparate parts into a whole.
Organizations of all kinds, from churches to corporations to sports teams, appoint interim heads while searching for a long-term leader. Sometimes the interim is a candidate for the permanent position, and the temporary time frame is really an audition. City Manger Mark Jinks and outgoing Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley were both initially interim heads.
Other times, the interim leader is explicitly barred from applying for the permanent post. In that instance, a placeholder can sometimes make difficult and necessary decisions, on personnel and other matters, without needing to factor in the long-term personal or political consequences.
It is unclear into which category ACPS Interim Superintendent Lois Berlin falls. Berlin assumes her post on Monday, with Crawley’s departure for George Mason University slated for the following week, and her announced tenure is through next January.
Whether auditioning or placeholding, Berlin seems extraordinarily well positioned to make a difference at ACPS between next week and next January — for several reasons.
First, she’s familiar with Alexandria and its school system due to her many years here as a teacher and administrator.
Though she’s been away for 13 years, Berlin brings knowledge of our city, chronic issues within ACPS and familiarity with many teachers, staff and administrators to her post.
People usually say they will hit the ground running. Berlin should actually be able to. In addition, Berlin most recently was head of an organization that aids in the development of school administrators.
She seems to be unusually capable of mentoring Alexandria’s six new principals, including Peter Balas at T.C. Williams High School, as they assume their new positions.
The fact that she wasn’t here during the last budget cycle, when an emphasis on learning seemed drowned out by the incessant – and divisive – harping on facilities funding, also seems a plus.
That’s not to diminish the need for adequate school buildings, but simply an acknowledgement that focusing on a negative often drains positive energy. It’s time to redirect that energy to what happens within classrooms.
This is a time of significant transition within ACPS, with changes at the superintendent post, at the helm of Alexandria’s lone public high school and at five more city schools. Change definitely brings upheaval.
But with disruption also comes opportunity.
Here’s hoping that Alexandria’s school board recognizes the advantageous window Berlin’s interim posting provides. Instead of merely working to make the proverbial trains run on time, we hope the new superintendent is able to coach the conductors and look at the schedules with fresh eyes.
Just because a tenure is short doesn’t mean it has to be inconsequential.