Marczak: Innovation is the key

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Education > New superintendent candidate makes his case Monday

By Tris DeRoma

Monday was busy day for Superintendent candidate Chris Marczak.
The day started off with an early morning interview on KRSN before heading off to spend the rest of a very long day being interviewed by various school board-appointed subcommittees comprised of parents, teachers, school administrators, the business community, as well as the Los Alamos School Board.
By the time 7 p.m. rolled around, the time when he was to make a presentation to the general public at the Los Alamos High School’s speech theater, one would think he’d show some signs of slowing down.
Instead, the general public got a man dressed in a newly pressed business suit and a crisp tie who didn’t have a hair out of place.
Marczak jumped right into his 10-minute presentation about his background and what he was all about.
“Innovation doesn’t happen with my position… innovation happens in the classroom,” he said toward the close of his presentation. “So what do I do to remove barriers so that more teachers and principals have what they need to be successful? I could sit up in central office and bark orders all day long, but unless I get out of my office and I get into the classroom and I find out what teachers need for kids, that’s where the innovation takes place. I remove barriers.”
After his presentation the audience then got to ask him some detailed questions about his background and how he would go about improving the school district.
Marczak, who is from Tennessee, is currently the Assistant Superintendent of Schools with the Oak Ridge School District, a place which also houses a national laboratory.
Before that, he served as lead principal in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. He also served as an assistant principal in the same school system.
After joking with the audience about how different the topography is from where he lives in Tennessee, he got down to business answering questions from the audience.
Prior to Marczak’s presentation, the audience was invited to write their questions down on 3 x 5 index cards to be read by Dan Castillo, an attorney from the school district’s law firm, Cuddy and McCarthy.
Many audience members wanted to know his thoughts on standardized testing and PAARC, the replacement of the Standards Based Assessment exam that students in the Los Alamos Public Schools are currently taking for the first time.
“I don’t like it (standardized testing) to be honest with you,” he said to the audience. “I do not like the amount of federal testing that we do of kids to determine on that one day, are we doing our job as an education profession? I don’t like it. That being said, I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere or going away anytime soon. So, instead of focusing on things we can’t control, how do we focus on things we can control.”
He then further clarified his statement, adding that the key is knowing what the students will be assessed on. He was also against the idea of students protesting the tests through walkouts.
“Your kids are going to be taking tests for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Those tests are going to determine whether or not they’re going to get a job....We can pull them out, but all we’re going to do is hurt them in the long run.”
He also let the audience know that he believes in having a strong arts program in the schools and that it’s a part of “educating the whole child.”
He also talked about his experiences working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and how that experience has resulted in enriching the students in the Oak Ridge schools, enrichment that he said could very well lead to rewarding professional opportunities within, as well as outside, the national lab system when they graduate from high school or college.
One of the more unique questions asked of Marczak is how he would help get a community of people that seem to have many different opinions on how to best educate its children, educate its children.
Marczak talked of a “continuous improvement model,” a six- to eight-step strategy designed to prioritize educational needs through consensus.
“It’s built around one fundamental question: what do we want our kids to know and be able to do by the time they walk across the stage to graduation?” he said. “What we do is discipline ourselves to get that info from anywhere and anyway we can. Parents, students, community leaders, department of education people, everybody. Tell us what they should know and what they should be able to do. Then we take that, whittle it down to a five-, six- or seven-step model, and everything we do is aligned to that.”
After the question and answer period, Marczak and his wife mingled with the audience, for a short while before moving on to the next event, even though it was around 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, members of the general public will again meet up at the Speech Theater at 7 p.m. to hear a presentation by Kurt Steinhaus, who is the second candidate in the running for the job of Los Alamos’ superintendent of schools.
Current Los Alamos Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt will be leaving at the end of the school year. He announced his departure in March of 2014 after saying he felt he no longer had the support of the school board.