Interview with new Portland schools chief
Not to be outdone by other bloggers who have been publishing interviews with some important state and local officials, I managed to pull some strings earlier today and land an exclusve one-on-one session with Vicki Phillips, the new superintendent of the Portland public schools. Phillips most recently was the Pennsylvania secretary of education. Her appointment to her new post was announced in Portland this past Monday night. I caught up with her at her school district office.
JBB: Welcome to Portland.
VP: Thank you. There's something wonderful about a fresh start in a new city. [Sings:] "You're gonna make it after all."
JBB: Will you miss Pennsylvania?
VP: Sure, in some ways. But when somebody offers to double your salary for the same work, you've got to heed the call. Plus, if it doesn't pan out, I understand the government pays very generous severances out here.
JBB: Tell us about your first impressions so far.
VP: I'm really, really impressed by the Rose City. So high-tech. I understand the public officials here already have a couple of, what do you call them? Blods?
JBB: Do you mean "blogs"? Weblogs?
VP: Yes, weblogs, that are all set up for their use. That's very progressive. And the place is so prosperous! I see these brand new streetcars, the gigantic convention center, a new local income tax, even a fancy stadium for minor league baseball. All this is telling me that these are boom times in these parts. I'm excited to be a part of it.
JBB: There was some controversy about the process by which you were hired.
VP: Really? I hadn't heard that.
JBB: Some people have objected that the candidates' forum you participated in was meaningless, since you had already been offered the job, and an announcement had already been made back in Pennsylvania that you were the new super in Portland.
VP: Well, you've got to take the time difference into account. It's three hours later on the East Coast. And so actually, I wasn't hired until after the forum was over.
JBB: Er, now wait a second...
VP: Let me put it another way, Eric...
JBB: It's "Jack."
VP: Yes, of course, sorry. Let me put it another way. People don't realize how hard it is to interview for a job that you've already quietly been offered. I had already resigned back in Harrisburg, and the pressure was really intense on me to perform flawlessly at the candidates' forum. If you bomb at that kind of event and you get hired anyway, it really starts you off on the wrong foot with people. Fortunately, I did o.k.
JBB: Some people in the audience thought your presentation was too canned. The other candidate was livelier -- even injected some humor into the proceedings.
VP: You know, Jack, I think there's a time and a place for everything, including kidding around. But not while I'm on the job. I try to emulate Justice Ruth Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. The last humorous moment she had in a professional setting was a momentary chuckle she reportedly let out at a faculty meeting at Columbia in the 1970s.
JBB: How has the transition been going for you personally?
VP: I'm still trying to decide where to live. Nothing too pretentious, please -- I'm a down-to-earth person. Maybe a nice three-bedroom, two-bath in Dunthorpe, over by where the new librarian just bought. I might even be able to sweet-talk the neighbors into merging their dinky little school district with ours. What's the name of it? Riverplace?
JBB: I think it's "Riverdale."
VP: Yes. Anyway, there's no shortage of housing opportunities in this town. My voice mailbox is overflowing with calls from realtors. A couple of them sounded a little fishy, though. I'm a bit leery of them.
JBB: Like how?
VP: Just to give you an example: One guy, Homer something-or-other, says he's got a sweet deal on a riverfront condo for me. Something about it being right next door to a ski lift? Then there was a message from someone who called himself "Moe Cheeks." He wanted to know if I had a house in the Philadelphia area I could swap with him. He might be moving back there soon.
JBB: Believe it or not, Madame Superintendent...
VP: Please, just call me "Super Vicki."
JBB: Um, believe it or not, Super Vicki, those were probably real calls.
VP: I don't know when I'd be able to return them, anyway. My schedule's getting full. Tomorrow night I'm invited to meet a bunch of important people from a neighborhood called the "West Hills." They're gathering at someplace called the "Arlington Club"? For some sort of welcome wagon event for me. It's a little odd -- they keep saying it's an initiation ceremony. And they keep telling me somebody important named Neal wants to meet me. To tell the truth, it doesn't sound that interesting, but everybody I ask about it gets this grave look on their face and says I really, really have to go.