New Dist. 204 superintendent to focus on relevance, rigor, relationships
It didn't take long for Adrian Talley to notice he had slipped into the possessive form of speech.
The new Indian Prairie Unit District 204 superintendent won't officially start work until July 1, but on Tuesday found himself using "we" and "our" when meeting with members of his future school community.
The longtime administrator found himself saying things like "are we teaching children with relevance?" and talking about how to "get the work done based upon our vision."
Talley, 55, is leaving his position as director of community schools for Prince Georges County Public Schools in the Washington, D.C., suburbs to become District 204's superintendent upon the retirement of Karen Sullivan this June.
He said he was drawn by the district's size, engaged stakeholders and focus on equity. Coming from a district with 136,000 students among 206 schools, Talley said, he will find District 204's roughly 28,000 students at 33 schools a more manageable population.
The school board chose Talley from among a national candidate pool identified by the search firm Ray and Associates. Board members approved his contract Monday, giving him a $255,000 salary.
Board President Mike Raczak said Talley was clearly the best candidate, as he impressed groups of constituents and showed all the leadership qualities the district wanted to see.
"You look at those credentials and they blow you away," Raczak said.
The district will have the same expectations it did for former superintendents Kathy Birkett and Sullivan -- both of whom rose through the ranks -- as it does for Talley coming from the East Coast.
That even applies to work in the area of educational equity, about which Talley has taught at the graduate level. While it would be easy to hope Talley, who is black, would help the district attract more diverse teachers to reflect its students, Raczak said, he wants to caution against assuming that will be the case.
"I worry about unrealistic expectations that are placed on him, that he's able to do more or less because of the color of his skin," Raczak said.
The district has 42.4% white students, 32.1% Asian, 12% Hispanic, 8.9% black, 4.3% two or more races, 0.2% American Indian and 0.1% Pacific islander. But its teachers are 88.6% white, 3.7% Asian, 3.9% Hispanic, 2.8% black, 0.6% two or more races, 0.3% American Indian and 0.2% Pacific islander.
In terms of equity, Talley said, it's important to examine not only racial or ethnic diversity, but how differences play out among students in socioeconomic status, language and special needs.
"Equity is not about equal," he said. "It's about giving children what they need so they can achieve the level highest for them."
Talley said he aims to do that by bringing a focus on the "three Rs" of education: relevance, rigor and relationships.
"We have to teach so students understand the importance of what they're being taught and how it will support them in their work," he said, describing the importance of relevance.
The key question, he said, is: "How do we ensure that what the students are learning is as rigorous as they can learn and prepares them for the future."
Relationships, Talley said, connect all the dots and help everyone find their place.
"The social-emotional learning, that's as important -- if not even more important -- than the academics," he said. "We want children, we want staff, to be well socially and emotionally. If staff are well in that way, then they can teach, they can work in our schools, and if students are well, then they are ready for learning."
Talley said he always has loved learning and felt at home in schools. So instead of pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer (what he originally wanted to be when he grew up), Talley worked in education -- and on his education -- until he received a doctoral degree from George Washington University.
He began his career as a teacher in Virginia and a principal of two schools in two districts. Then he worked in district administration -- first with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, then with the Department of Defense Education Agency in Alexandria.
The experiences taught Talley not to come in thinking he knows everything, but to surround himself with the best minds in the district.
"I am one of those people who likes divergent thinking," he said. "I don't want 'yes people' around me. I want honest discussions."