Information is power. A favorite interview question will likely be, “What do you know about our school-community?” There are many ways of gathering information. Most candidates will check out the school’s and district’s achievement test data. However, you need to go beyond what everyone else does. Networking should be at the top of the list. Speak with friends and colleagues, and friends of friends– folks who work and/or live in the target district. Remember, you’re getting their opinions, and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Therefore, attempt to get a range of reliable sources. Read the local newspaper stories about the schools. Most towns have weekly newspapers on-line; read the comments, editorials and letters to the editor. Also, drive through the district. Check out the condition and location of the school(s). Get a feel for the community by stopping into a local super market, pizza place, and public library (they have a collection of local newspapers). And drive around the surrounding neighborhood of the school. Get an idea of the condition of the homes and apartments, and availability of parks, libraries, places of worship, shopping, and community centers. There are lots of ways to gather useful information.
Consider going so far as checking out the local real estate listings to get a sense of the property values. You might even attend a few open houses and speak to the realtors about the neighborhood and the schools. Attend a sports event or a concert. Get a sense of the community. Unless, it’s a very small community, you will be anonymous and unmemorable.
Your response to the query about what you know about the school community must be positive. Community leaders love their schools and their community, and don’t appreciate an “outsider” being critical. It’s similar to growing your own tomatoes in your garden. You spend a lot a time nurturing your garden, and you’re proud of your tomatoes. So, when a guest is served a salad, and you ask, “What do you think of my tomatoes?” It’s unappreciated if the guest is critical of your tomato.
You must be diplomatic. They’re not seeking constructive criticism, and you’re not there to serve as their consultant. You’re to get a job. However, if the interviewers initiate their displeasure with an aspect of the school (low test scores; high rate of student lateness; high teacher absenteeism), then you might diplomatically comment on their criticisms, citing the facts you found in your information gathering.
Sometimes, a follow up question from the interviewer(s) might be, “What did you do in order to learn more about us?” Don’t be coy about sharing your resourcefulness with them. They’ll be impressed that you took the time to thoroughly research their district. I would suggest that you leave out the visits to open houses! Also, keep the identities of your sources confidential. It’s unprofessional to name names even if prodded.
Dr. Aronstein will be presenting a workshop on “Getting Your Leadership Job” on April 19th at Nassau BOCES from 3:45 to 5:15. https://www.mylearningplan.com/WebReg/ActivityProfile.asp?D=10056&I=2009827