Wednesday, July 01, 2015

No More Mysterious Executive Sessions in CCSD?

As a recent lead editorial noted,  "For years, numerous public bodies have been excluding people from meetings without clear and lawful reasons to do so. They use executive sessions to discuss things absent outside scrutiny."

Better pay attention, Charleston County School District. Looks like the SC Supreme Court has your number! 

The editorial continues, "A recent S.C. Supreme Court decision should change that. It says public bodies must give the public a clear idea about why it wants to go into executive session. And that reason must be among those set out in the state’s Freedom of Information Act."
This is how it’s been working: A school board, city council or other public body votes to excuse the public so members can discuss “contractual matters” or “personnel matters.”
That’s like telling someone to pack his bags because you’re taking him “somewhere.” He needs to know whether to take black tie or a bathing suit, but you’re not telling. . . . 
But the extra information the Supreme Court said bodies must provide could be helpful to the public’s understanding of the public’s business. People might have helpful information to share with their elected representatives. And people might just pick up on an impropriety.
No, really?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

P & C's Cream-Puff "Interviews" of CCSD Superintendent Finalists

T'he P & C can really pick 'em. Our latest education reporter has absolutely no background in education unless you count graduating from Ohio State University, but she does have great lib-cred with a background at Mother Jones, etc. 

You would expect such a liberal reporter to balk at canned interview questions with the three superintendent finalists for the Charleston County School District, but maybe she doesn't know enough to think of her own. Two of these so-called "interviews" have appeared this week, and the third is to follow. The candidates sound as though they're filling out a questionnaire.

It's not what Deanna Pan asks; it's what she doesn't ask. The school board seems to have written the questions, which are the same for all candidates. Bland, bland, bland.

The intent of the questions seems to be to elicit uniform comments--what has prepared you to head this school district; how would you make relations with the school board harmonious; how would you improve diversity; do you like school choice; how important is standardized testing (my paraphrasing here). Nothing provocative, all eliciting similar prepared answers. 

How about these questions:
  • In what ways could the district cut its administrative costs?
  • Should non-academic factors be used for selection to the Academic Magnet and its ilk?
  • How would your administration differ from that of the previous superintendent?
  • Do you believe a national curriculum such as Common Core will benefit the district?
  • Will you order a forensic audit of the district and throw open its books?
Claiming ignorance of the district is not a viable option. Why would any candidate not do her homework and sound that ignorant?

Then, there are some special questions for Herring: how does a year or two teaching in a private school classroom years ago prepare you to understand problems facing CCSD's teachers today? What did you learn from your handling of the punishment given to the student who disrespected your daughter and its consequent furor?

While it's pointless to review how these three were selected, you still must wonder why the district didn't skip all the fuss by promoting Herring in the first place. After all, that's what it did for Nancy McGinley. Now if Herring is selected, people will assume it was a foregone conclusion, and if she's not, the NAACP will be in full cry.


Monday, June 15, 2015

P & C's Favorite Letter Writer Slaps Down Charleston Teacher Alliance

Jody Stallings, head of the Charleston Teacher Alliance and award-winning teacher in the Charleston County School District, got slapped down last week for having the temerity to suggest that more classroom teaching experience should be required for a new CCSD superintendent. The designated slapper was Robert Harris, apparently a favorite of the P & C, since he's had at least three letters published on the editorial page since January. Name me someone else who isn't a present or former public official.

Basically, Harris set up a straw man to tear apart Stallings's opinion. Harris suggested that Stallings believes that only teaching experience of 15 years qualifies a candidate. Stallings meant nothing of the kind, and I'm confident that he will not be allowed three published letters to refute the charge.

The three finalists do not fit Stallings criteria, nor mine either, for that matter. No doubt more recent and longer teaching experience would benefit anyone's oversight of what today's teachers face. However, I don't need to hear personally from these three to know that they think alike on public education and its policies. And a "new" superintendent search won't fix that.

The system rewards group think. A candidate who "thinks outside of the box" will never be considered. Could it be that 15 years in a classroom might produce original thinking?

Heaven forbid! After all, what do teachers know?

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Vox Populi? CCSD Board Says "Stifle It."

"The purpose of public comment periods is to allow the public time to express its views and concerns regarding proposed action to be taken by individuals, an organization, agency, or other entity that impacts the public at large."--ATA Standards & Guidelines [italics mine]

Evidently, for Charleston County School Board member Kate Darby, elected six months ago, thirty seconds is enough time for any comment from the public at the regularly scheduled meetings of the Board. Why would anyone want to hear more, such as the reasons behind a stated opinion? In fact,  it seems likely from her point of view that public comment is both annoying and unnecessary--and her time is too valuable to waste in hearing from the "little people," perhaps imagining herself more important as the daughter-in-law of a former mayor.

Cooler heads prevailed by cutting the two-minute rule to one minute. Gee, how kindly.

Here's an idea: let's contain the remarks of other Board members to one minute and Darby to thirty seconds. That would certainly make their comments more succinct.

Monday, June 01, 2015

CCSD Speaks with Forked Tongue on Taxes

"Nothing is certain but death and taxes."--Benjamin Franklin

The Charleston County School District believes that taxpayers have short memories. How else to explain its proposal this month to raise taxes only half a year after promising that extension of the "penny" sales tax would take care of its finances.

If you voted for that as a business owner, more fool you!

While our elected school board attempts to rein in spending, the truth is that no one is watching the store. The district's budget is now estimated to rise to $426 million next year. That's serious money! When will our state delegation recognize that one of the largest employers in the county needs more oversight? Would you believe that many school districts' budgets are overseen by higher authorities, such as county councils or state delegations?

Apparently it will take a major whistle-blower to effect a forensic audit of the district, a move its critics have advocated for decades. Well, acting superintendent Michael Bobby isn't going to support a true audit--as chief financial officer he has a horse in this race. We all know the district's budget is bloated--we just don't know how much.

But look, Bobby says, we were going to raise over $22 million in new revenue, but as a special price for you, it's going to be only $6.9 million! How can we complain about that?

Board members Tripp Wiles, Todd Garrett, and Michael Miller, who aren't always on the same side, are reluctant to go along, but they constitute only one third of the board's members.

Here are the board members who need to hear from you:

Mrs. Cindy Bohn Coats
Board of Trustees Chair
75 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29401
819-8205 (cell)
email 
Business Specialist
Term expires: 11/2018 - Elected: 11/2010
Mr Chris StaubesMr. Chris Staubes
Board of Trustees Vice Chair
126 Seven Farms Drive, Suite 200
Charleston, SC 29492
577-2026 (work)
email
Attorney
Term expires: 11/2018 - Elected: 11/2014
Rev Chris CollinsRev. Chris Collins
75 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29401
813-0616 (cell)
email
Pastor/Business Owner
Term expires: 11/2016 - Elected: 11/2008
Kate DarbyMrs. Kate Darby
245 Indigo Bay Circle
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
566-6123 (cell)
email
Director of Administration
Term expires: 11/2018 - Elected: 11/2014 
Mr Tom DuckerMr. Tom Ducker
2357 Sorentrue Avenue
North Charleston, SC 29405
532-9369 (home)
email
Retired
Term expires: 11/2016 - Elected: 11/2012
Mr Todd GarrettMr. Todd Garrett
338 President Street
Charleston, SC 29403
408-8846 (cell)
email
Commercial Real Estate Agent
Term expires: 11/2016 - Elected: 11/2012
Eric MackRev. Dr. Eric Mack
75 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29401
697-1447 (cell)
email
Pastor/Business Owner
Term expires: 11/2018 - Elected: 11/2014 
Mr Michael MillerMr. Michael Miller1660 Pierpont Avenue
Charleston, SC 29414
991-1969 (cell)
email
Business Owner
Term expires: 11/2016 - Elected: 11/2012
Mr Tripp WilesMr. Tripp Wiles
184 East Bay Street, Suite 103
Charleston, SC 29401
718-0232 (office)
email
Attorney 
Term expires: 11/2016 - Elected: 11/2014

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CCSD's Herring Needs to Skip Jargon to Communicate


Here's a bingo game teachers enjoy as they sit through hours of boring in-services. It comes in many versions, but all have a serious underlying message. Jargon in any field makes one professional sound knowledgeable to another, but often those same terms inadvertently impress audiences with the idea that the speaker is talking down. Such is the case with Dr. Lisa Herring's recent op-ed on "personalized learning." She responded to an article in which some teachers and parents worried about overuse of iPads in the early grades.

Nothing in Herring's essay will alleviate the concerns of those parents and teachers, since she intimates that she needs to explain "personalized learning" to them. Evidently, she does not consider their worries part of her desired "feedback from critical thought partners," although they seem to fall into the categories she names as "stakeholders."

"Building 21st century skills" for "today's global economy," Herring suggests, must cause these critical thinkers to "step outside of [their] comfort zone." She's not stepping out of hers.

Too many educational "fixes" have flopped for "stakeholders" to accept that professionals always know best.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

CCSD's Constituent Boards Victims of Central Planning

Elizabeth Moffly's op-ed correctly points out that a 2007 law supported by our legislative delegation made the Charleston County School District's constituent boards into toothless wonders. This policy change negated traditional powers of what were originally independent school districts, a structure approved under district consolidation. CCSD touted the change as necessary to hold the superintendent responsible for her job.

Well, that worked, didn't it? 

Apart from playing musical chairs with principals, ex-superintendent McGinley appointed layers of bureaucracy to take that responsibility, writing her own evaluation form to guarantee her success. Centralized planning is always the refuge of liberals. Think of the school district in terms of the federal government (the Taj Mahal) versus the states (constituent districts). Does one size fit all?

If you are a liberal, the one-size-fits-all philosophy is self evident. Heaven forbid that local districts might have differing ideas about the worth of personnel or disciplining students.

Critics suggest that local power leads to cronyism.

Please, give me local cronyism over cronyism at the Taj Mahal!