Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SC Superintendent Zais No Lame Duck on Smarter Balanced

If the Democrats manage to get control of the SC Department of Education by electing Mick Zais's replacement, those opposing the imposition of Common Core and its attendant government-mandated testing will think of these as the good old days.

Retiring Superintendent Zais earlier this week used his position to withdraw South Carolina from the consortium pushing Smarter Balanced Testing for the Common Core standards. Other mealy-mouthed politicians in the state are hedging their bets with comments on how, since we started down the Common Core road (under a Democratic Superintendent) we must continue. South Carolina is not alone in its rejection of the federal take-over of education by dangling Race-to-the-Top funds in front of ignorant noses.

We're going to miss Mick.


Alex Peronneau said...

If SC officially rejects Common Core and its related testing packages, what alternatives exist for maintaining consistent state-wide educational standards? How will an alternative set of standards to be measured? Can the SC Department of Education be trusted to provide meaningful reports on how well local school districts are meeting those standards and goals?

I'm not a fan of Common Core or the hoard of private businesses that looked to profit (at taxpayers' expense) from its implimentation. But that leaves us to figure out how to judge if our public schools are doing a good job throughout the state. So far they haven't or at best the successes have been few and far between.

Anonymous said...

RIP Dr. Chip Zullinger. Visionary.

HdeS Copeland said...

Thanks to a CCSD insider for passing this news along.

While he was here, I didn't know much about Chip Zullinger, only that he was in the process of bringing genuine public opinion and open discussions about local schools into the spotlight. His last two years as Superintendent here coincided with my return to Charleston after a 20 year absence. What I do recall of my initial impressions of him, however, was his refreshing attempt to genuinely encourage grassroots participation in efforts to reform local schools.

Since then and after having much closer contact with the three superintendents who followed him, I came to realize that Dr. Zullinger was probably one of the only superintendents in the nearly 50-year existence of CCSD who placed any value in what parents and people not tied to the bureaucracy thought about local public schools. He took their ideas seriously and he challenged them to become involved in the process.

My only real exposure to his style that embraced public participation was his remarkably well attended neighborhood school forums. This had a particularly galvanizing impact on the District 20 community and eventually influenced people like me to become more active advocates for our downtown schools. What I didn’t know then was that it appeared some insiders, including certain county board members, were highly upset by his ability to bring outsiders into the planning process.

This could be seen as a direct challenge to the status quo. It threatened to give parents and the community some meaningful leverage in reshaping their neighborhood schools which could bring a new balance to the governing table. The bureaucracy and special interests which had long controlled CCSD's policy making and management apparatus might be forced to genuinely consider parent and community interests for the first time in CCSD's history.

It was only logical that he should include the customer in the process of improving the product being delivered by CCSD. It would appear he was achieving some success when the board abruptly fired him roughly 15 years ago.

As it is often said, we seldom appreciate the value of someone like Chip Zullinger until they are gone. With his removal as head of CCSD, certain board members worked to ensure that future superintendents would never again place high value in anything that could remotely resemble meaningful public participation. Future superintendents might be given more autonomy, but, in contrast to Chip Zullinger’s example, they would be given almost absolute power provided they remained totally loyal to maintaining a closed system.

After his removal, CCSD would remain a public school system that was closed to change or reform. In other words, established special interests would be guaranteed unfettered access to the seat of power. Never mind the public or the community’s desire for local public schools meeting needs that might actually exceed minimum national standards or expectations.

Dr. Zullinger’s death reminds us of a real loss we suffered in Charleston nearly 15 years ago when he was fired. It could only be described as a palace coup, largely orchestrated by Gregg Meyers and others who felt threatened by Chip Zullinger’s remarkable ability to engage the public.

We really don’t know how successful he might have been had he been allowed to stay. One thing is certain, CCSD, the superintendent’s office and the county school board, have never been able to recover the public trust he appeared to be on the road to winning when he was fired. His firing was a back room deal that has never been fully explained.

Anonymous said...

Before there were charter schools, there were "autonomous schools." The "problem" for the "establishment" was that the experiment(s) were working so well, administratively, fiscally and academically, those pilot schools became an embarrassment to the likes of (then-CCSD Finance Director) Jerry Hartley and Barbara Dilligard. The bureaucrats in CCSD couldn't work hard enough (or fast enough) to derail those success stories. However, those of us who were in those schools will never forget what it was like. It was amazing! Yes, Dr. Zullinger truly was ahead of his time. A great man.

Clisby said...

You mean the same Mick Zais who was determined to use standardized test scores to rank teachers? Not going to miss that moron for even a nanosecond.

D20 said...

So what state superintendent candidates look good? Which ones look really bad? What can voters do about it when a primary all but predetermines the outcome in November?