Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nancy McGinley, Mystery Woman

When I saw in Saturday's Post and Courier that Sunday's edition would include an article on Nancy McGinley, the new Superintendent of Schools for CCSD, I looked forward to learning more about her. In particular, I hoped to get some sense of McGinley as a person and of her plans for the district. Alas, it was a hope not fulfilled.

For those who have no access to the Web or do not know how to use Google, I suppose today's article contained news. The only news I gleaned was that McGinley is (and was) an athlete in high school and college and that her father was a principal in the Philadelphia schools. Oh, yes, and she surfs at the Washout on Folly.

So I have a list of questions for McGinley that should have been asked. Perhaps they were, and McGinley refused to answer them; perhaps the editors cut these questions and answers out of the article. I'll give the reporter the benefit of the doubt. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Apart from receiving a job offer here, why did you want to come to the Charleston area?

  2. Now that you have resided in the Lowcountry for a few years, how have your perceptions of it changed?

  3. Is it too personal to ask if you have ever been married, had children, etc.?

  4. What is your opinion of the relationship that exists between the city (in particular, the mayor of Charleston) and county government and CCSD?

  5. How do you intend to respond to parental and community discontent over the handling of the principal for Fraser Elementary and of the lottery for Buist Academy kindergarten slots?

  6. Are you concerned that District 20 schools are de facto segregated?

  7. What are your ideas about the proposed downtown charter high school and its use of the Rivers building?

  8. What do you see as differences between your leadership style and that of Maria Goodloe-Johnson?

Well, that's a good start, although I suppose McGinley can't answer some of these until Maria Goodloe-Johnson is well out of town.

Maybe the rest of you can think of some more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cook Drives the Car; Green Oils the Gears

Today's lead editorial in the Post and Courier, "School Board Too Quick to Act, But Give New Leader Support," separates easily into three topics: (1) the CCSD school board's willful violation of the Freedom of Information act; (2) its unseemly rush to name Nancy McGinley superintendent; and (3) the P & C's desire to lionize new member Toya Hampton Green's take on the results.

Regarding the first topic, the editorial simply puts into words what onlookers sensed but could not crystallize--no public discussion of the process that would have quelled the community's feelings of a rush to judgment in the selection of Nancy McGinley as the new superintendent. Why? The board wants to project a united front; it knew such haste would be controversial and would elicit criticism. It believed it could take its chances with minor violations of the law.

On the second topic, Nancy Cook simply out-maneuvered board members-- Green, Jordan, and Douglas--into voting NOT to interview McGinley by ruling (in executive session apparently) that, if the interview measure carried, they would be unable to vote to name her as interim. Slick, that one.

Topic three is Toya Hampton Green. Much of the information in the editorial came straight from Green, whom the P & C touts as providing good advice to the disgruntled. Originally endorsed by the P & C, Green straddles an interesting position in that she has insulted the District 20 constituent board (the district where she lives) by stating that she wasn't elected to represent them but the district as a whole; her child's number was selected in the Buist Academy lottery (this miracle occurs for every CCSD board member having a child who applies); and, before going into practice with her husband, she represented CCSD for a major law firm.

Now, Green is an experienced lawyer. I for one refuse to believe that she couldn't figure out what Cook was up to with her ruling. If Green had voted to interview McGinley, the motion would have passed.

Machiavellian, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Superintendent Arrives with Baggage

The deed is done. Now Nancy McGinley must deal with the consequences of the CCSD School Board's stupidity.

At Monday night's meeting the Board voted along racial lines to offer McGinley the superintendent's position with a four-year contract, without public discussion, any statement from McGinley or Goodloe-Johnson, or even a salary figure. McGinley, not surprisingly, accepted immediately.

The position of the majority on the board was--trust us, we know McGinley, and she is the best superintendent we will be able to find. In other words, arrogance personified. Can anyone blame Jordan and Green for reluctance? THEY haven't worked with McGinley over the past three or four years. Douglas has, and he voted against McGinley. Unfortunately, the voting results play into the hands of Dot Scott, who deliberately made finding a new superintendent a racial issue.

Meyers, of course, said that speedy action was needed so that CCSD doesn't lose McGinley to another district, citing her making it to the finals for the position in two other cities.

Gregg, she didn't get offered either of those jobs, and you (or she) haven't told us that she is considering another at the moment. Let's get real.

The answer is that the current board has much of its own credibility invested in continuing the policies of Goodloe-Johnson. McGinley was hired by Goodloe-Johnson, and the board wants to continue down that road now that G-J is leaving. If it waited or allowed McGinley to open her mouth prior to the official vote, McGinley might say or do something that would put her selection in jeopardy. The powers that be (including the Metro Chamber of Commerce) were recruited for support.

However, in rushing to judgment, the board has put McGinley's success in jeopardy.

Perhaps you may be wondering how G-J found McGinley for the job as Academic Officer. Simple. That was not a search either. They met while attending the Broad (rhymes with road) Center's program to train urban superintendents (You can check it out at Goodloe-Johnson probably went there to get out of Corpus Christi, where she knew she would not advance; McGinley probably went there when she realized that she needed further credentials to rise in the hierarchy of the Philadelphia school system. McGinley did not get a job as a superintendent when she left; instead, she was hired by G-J.

Assuming the school board majority adamant in insisting that there be no superintendent search, it still could have compromised by offering McGinley a shorter contract of, say, eighteen months, during which time the community could evaluate her effectiveness. If another job offer came knocking during that time, the board could always meet to revisit her contract, as it did when recently when it lengthened Goodloe-Johnson's (and hers).

As it is, if McGinley has any smarts at all, she will begin by mending fences, especially with District 20. She should continue by asserting her own ideas and airing district policies, particularly in regard to Buist Academy, in order to show that she is not merely a puppet for insiders.

It's time for transparency.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Am I Now Imagining Things?

Just having caught a few minutes more of the last televised school board meeting (the one that voted a year's extension for both Goodloe-Johnson and McGinley), I am struck by the tension that appeared to surface between Ruth Jordan and Gregg Meyers.

Don't you wonder sometimes what goes on in executive sessions? I do.

Jordan seemed unhappy about transfers granted to students from Laing Middle School to Moultrie Middle School, both of which are in Mt. Pleasant. Her take was that these "transfers of convenience" could actually be attempts to avoid students who had transferred into Laing from failing North Charleston schools.

Nahh! Couldn't happen, right District 20? No intra-district transfers are allowed in CCSD based on race, are they?

A clearly uncomfortable and rattled Meyers referenced the board's long-standing policies, allowing reluctantly that maybe they need to be revisited. Ravenel woke up long enough to second the idea of revisiting policy.

Nancy Cook quickly changed the subject. Jordan didn't look all that pleased.

Hmm. Maybe there's some hope here that Jordan will not follow blindly.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Law of Unintended Consequences, Part II: NBCT's

A reminder of the South Carolina legislature's short-sightedness regarding National Board Certification appeared in the Post and Courier last Wednesday. The article concerned the report issued by the NBCT Summit held in South Carolina last August. [see ] for the full report.

Why nine months' labor was required to publish the report is not clear, but at least one of its statistics is very predictable: Of the 5000 NBCT's in South Carolina (and aren't we proud that we are third in the nation in numbers!) a mere 132 teach in "high-needs" schools! For the math-challenged, that's about two and one-half percent.

What happened? You may want to check out my post of last August titled, "The Law of Unintended Consequences."

The report of the Summit has several recommendations, including adding an additional $5000 to NBCT's who teach in the failing schools in question. There is nothing wrong with their analysis. It's just that, as usual, South Carolina is trying to lock the barn door after the horse got out.

Would it not be nice to have administrators and legislators with foresight? Seeing this train coming down the tracks would not have taken a rocket scientist.

Now, it's lack of foresight, or intentional neglect, (I'm not sure which) that caused the state legislature (also last summer) to restructure the tax base for school funding without giving any attention to the consequences for the funds it sends to school districts.

That's our $11 million shortfall.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What Has Changed since 1997, Joe?

The Sunday Post and Courier's Faith and Values section included an interview with Mayors Summey, Riley, and Hallman called "Poverty Forum." Most of their answers appear to be what the reader might expect of such forums--many platitudes sprinkled with a few good ideas. What caught my eye, however, was Joe Riley's answer to the following question:

"Education is universally cited as the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. What more can local government do to support the goals of our public schools?"

After attempting to describe how family life has changed in the last 30-50 years (mothers working, violence, drugs, divorce), Riley makes the following assertion:

"There is a very important role for local government as a supporter of public education. As opposed to 10 years ago [italics mine], I am regularly communicating with [G-J, McGinley, Lewis, and/or CCSD principals]."

Not much has changed in the last 10 years in the areas you cited, Joe, so what has motivated your change in behavior? You now say that city government has its role to play in improving education. When did you discover this novel idea? I ask because, well, haven't you been mayor since 1975--that's 32 years? And how have the schools on the peninsula fared during that time?

According to the rather grandly named Riley Institute for Urban Affairs and Policy Studies at the College of Charleston,

"Mayor Riley has led a city government with an impressive record of innovation in public safety, housing, arts and culture, children's issues, the creation of park and other public spaces, and economic revitalization and development. The City of Charleston is recognized as one of the most livable and progressive cities in the United States."

Um. Except for its downtown schools? Aren't they a "children's issue"? Can the Institute (and Riley, presumably) claim Charleston as "livable and progressive" if its downtown schools are failing? Frankly, from my point of view, the "urban affair" of overriding importance should be successful urban schools. Try to imagine what a difference such a phenomenon would make in livability for urban residents.

Could it be that accountability for schools has come to the forefront? That schools that have always been failing are now labeled as failing for all to see?

More at issue are Riley's further comments about Fraser Elementary and the "circle" of community drawn around it. Are the entities he named--McNeil Law firm, Piggly Wiggly, Pratt-Thomas Gumb & Co., the School of Law--as part of the circle making a difference at Fraser? Different than, say, 10 years ago? If so, what is it? Is it hype or reality?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Goodbye to All That

At least that is what many of us are hoping as Maria Goodloe-Johnson prepares to go to Seattle.

My title, by the way, comes from Robert Graves's biography expressing his disillusionment with the old European values after World War I. Who among us does not feel disillusioned by CCSD's behavior during Goodloe-Johnson's watch? Most of you will not need a list.

Well, apparently the Post and Courier. Sunday's lead editorial was a masterpiece of praise for the superintendent. In fact, the writer really should really look for a job as a political flack or maybe one as an apologist for global warming. Brushing aside the facts on the ground ("failing schools," possible "state takeover" of a school, losing a court battle over a "racially charged teacher complaint," policy differences that "culminated with the establishment of a charter school"), the writer touts the "Plan for Excellence" as G-J's "legacy."

Funny, he or she forgot to mention the furor over Buist Academy admissions and the half-time principal for Fraser Elementary! And how about those District 20 lawsuits?

Now, I have no particular bone to pick with the Plan, but it is just that--a plan. Never mind that Goodloe-Johnson told Seattle that it is her plan, while this week school board members in favor of Nancy McGinley's taking G-J's place gave her equal credit (although some of us may wonder just whose plan it is). However, the Plan's accomplishments so far are mainly in structural changes. They may or may not bear fruit. "Closing the gap" incrementally between failing schools and others doesn't mean much to a parent whose child is still caught in that gap or being bused to an out-of-district school in hopes of getting a better education. Believe it or not, the P&C even trotted out a meager improvement in SAT scores as evidence. (You would think it wouldn't want to remind readers of just how low they are. We can't even count on Mississippi to be below us any more!)

Of course, Goodloe-Johnson did not create the mess that is CCSD; that took thirty years of "desegregated" schools and many more of "separate but equal." However, I refuse to believe that she deserves the credit for putting CCSD's fiscal house in order. I doubt that it IS in order. Perhaps in a few months we will begin to hear about "previous poor budgeting and a variety of fiscal emergencies" that may even concern "the district's massive construction and renovation program," just as CCSD stood when Goodloe-Johnson arrived. Certainly, waiting until the last moment before contacting state legislators about what was OBVIOUSLY going to be a budget shortfall after last year's tax legislation was not the wisest plan.

You may think I'm being disingenuous to state that I wish Goodloe-Johnson well, but I'm sincere. Seattle, while it does not appear to be in as bad shape as CCSD, will not be a picnic. It has its own urban versions of District 20 and a long record of problems that will not be solved overnight. Its students deserve better schools, too.

Perhaps you have some heartfelt advice for the superintendent in her next job. Mine would be for her to try to be more down-to-earth, more receptive to criticism, and more ready to admit mistakes.

What's yours?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Was I Right? G-J Contract Extension

Update on Maria Goodloe-Johnson's progress to Seattle:

As I predicted, Goodloe-Johnson's friends on the CCSD saw this search as an opportunity to revisit her previous evaluation. Now that she has a friendlier board, they have extended her contract with CCSD for a year in hopes of keeping her. The decision was made tonight, contingent upon her not going to Seattle, of course.

What our friends in Seattle have speculated about is that her former supervisor who has a top position in the Seattle district probably suggested Maria for consideration.

Speak to Seattle on Goodloe-Johnson

In the interest of debate, I have copied below a comment on my previous post. Those who have personal knowledge are invited to report on Maria Goodloe-Johnson's performance as superintendent.

Beth Bakeman said...
I'm from Seattle and I want to know the straight scoop about Maria Goodloe-Johnson.Tell us about her management style, the opinion of people who work with her, and the way she has handled tough situations in your district. You can either post your insights about Maria directly on our blog at Meet. Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson or send them to me via e-mail.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Economic Idiocy

At the end of the P&C's article today complimenting State Senator Glenn McConnell on his letter asking the attorney general for an interpretation of the state school funding formula in light of last year's tax reform, the reporters appended an email from newly-elected CCSD school board member Brian Moody. Here is what appeared in the news article:

"School board member Brian Moody wrote in an e-mail to The Post and Courier that he couldn't agree more with McConnell's letter and was thrilled that he wrote the attorney general. The issue has nothing to do with where people stand on the property tax debate. It's an issue of fair play, he wrote.

'If there's more money being funneled into public education in South Carolina, how can you reconcile that the largest tax contributor, Charleston County, would receive less money than the year before,' Moody wrote. 'The answer is, you can't. Frankly, I'm not sure how a reasonable person could see this any other way.'"

The reporters wisely chose not to comment further, or, if they did, their response was cut off.

Moody clearly doesn't understand what the formula is all about--equalizing money spent in districts across the state (in Texas it was known as the "Robin Hood" law).

Let's try some simple economics for Brian, who either doesn't get it or is deliberately being obtuse:

Suppose you have a yearly pie and each district gets a piece of it each year. If all of the pieces are the same size, the district that has baked really large pies in the past will end up with a much larger total than the district that hasn't had the ingredients to bake a big pie. In fact, the latter district has gone hungry. If you want to equalize the results for the two districts, the larger slice that you give to the hungry district will mean that the pie-rich district will get a smaller piece.

Brian, there's no way around this economic fact. It doesn't matter if taxes come from property or from sales: the pie is the same size. Giving CCSD $11.4 million more will mean that the hungry districts will get $11.4 million less.

In the past CCSD would have dealt with a shortfall by raising property taxes and again spending more than the less wealthy districts. Apparently our state legislators did not want that result. They are the ones who have limited the district's ability to raise taxes on owner-occupied homes. It was a really popular idea at the time, Brian. Do you remember?

There is nothing, I repeat, nothing about this result that should be a surprise to anyone except the exact amount of the deficit for CCSD.

That's what a "reasonable" person should conclude.
Update: I stand corrected: Brian Moody is NOT "newly elected." He is serving his second term on CCSD. I guess his remarks just suggest that he's new!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Roving Opportunists": Great Epithet!

What I am most worried about at this point is NOT that CCSD Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson will go to Seattle, but that she will stay in CCSD.

Inscrutable as they may be in making decisions, surely the powers-that-be visiting from the Seattle School District will discern at least part of the potemkin village that she has posited as success in Charleston. Even now they may be reading comments posted on this blog in previous months, as a blog on the website of one of the Seattle newspapers has recommended and reproduced. It almost makes me wish I'd never criticized the school district. [I said ALMOST!]

I also don't see why Goodloe-Johnson would really want to go if she realizes that the Seattle district has lost almost half of its school population in the last 40 years, has an active teachers' union, and does not enjoy the cozy relationship with local newspapers that exists for her and CCSD here in the Lowcountry.

No, what makes me most nervous is a very similar happening in the Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) from which Goodloe-Johnson came, a happening orchestrated by then Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, presumably her mentor. As events developed, Saavedra kept secret his application for superintendent of schools in El Paso until he was one of two (or three--I can't remember) candidates being considered. When that announcement was made, he got his lackeys on the CCISD school board to vote him a substantial raise so that he wouldn't leave.

It worked--until the news leaked out that several school board members "owed" Saavedra for not keeping, shall we say, careful track of outrageous expenses charged to the district on its American Express Card by board members, a former assistant superintendent, and Saavedra himself. [This in a school district so poor that in some of its high schools only students in "honors" classes got textbooks to take home with them.]

Did he get his just desserts? Well, the Corpus Christi DA Carlos Valdez convened a court of inquiry that resulted in Saavedra's being charged with a felony. He was suspended from his CCISD duties but then acquitted of the charges by a jury. However, the honeymoon was over with the school board (gee, I wonder why), and Saavedra left for greener pastures, working his way in the last few years into the top position in the much larger and more lucrative Houston ISD. "Roving opportunists," indeed.

Will history repeat itself? It is a fact that in her last review by the CCSD School Board Goodloe-Johnson neither received a raise nor an extension of her contract. But that was with the OLD school board that had several members underimpressed by her performance. Now she has a much friendlier board, one of whose members (Ruth Jordan) has already suggested that Charleston needs to find a way to keep her on as superintendent--and Jordan doesn't even have any children at Buist that I know of!

Time will tell. The school board meets again on Monday night.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

And District Transfers Are Going to Help?

The South Carolina state legislature appears to be poised to congratulate itself on passing legislation that will allow any student to transfer into a district he or she does not reside in, provided that the percentage of non-district transfers into a district does not rise above 3%.

I've been racking my brain, trying to conjure scenarios that validate this new policy as improving South Carolina's schools. Finally, it dawned on me: this will improve some of its football teams!

Yes, friends, now Summerville's long-serving football coach, known to recruit out of district and use various subterfuges to get those promising out-of-district students into the Green Wave, will simply get them to transfer into the district. No doubt there are other football powers that will also reap the benefit. Why didn't we think of this before?

Do you ever feel like they're rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

But District 20 parents can really laugh at the worries of some upstate residents that district re-segregation will occur if students transfer out of districts where they actually reside. CCSD knows that we don't need inter-district transfers to re-segregate schools; intra-district works just fine. They need only look down from their offices on Calhoun Street at the Charleston penninsula schools to see that.

An added bonus will be that those out-of-district Buist Academy students who entered on the downtown list will become only 100% illegal instead of 200%.

Will transportation be provided out of district? I hope it won't depend on CCSD. It can't even get students transferring out of its failing schools on the penninsula to Mt. Pleasant on time, much less to Berkeley or Dorchester County!