Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Hillsborough County School Board

I know nothing more about this dispute than what I’ve read here, but this post (Making Sense of the Hillsborough County School Board Tension, by Matthew K. Tabor) is a hatchet job.

It is clear from the valuation, that while two members were critical of Elia’s performance, the remaining five were very strongly in support.

Tabor remarks, “The problems here, however, are less political than with members’ differing commitments to serving the district.”

But this isn’t shown at all in the post, no matter how many times he recites, pointlessly, “203,000 students and over 25,000 personnel.”

The debate is whether Elia is working with the board, or contrary to the interests of the board. Griffin states repeatedly in her comments that “she (Elia) has been unyielding in her dealings with the Board.” But she has the support of the Board - the evaluation makes that clear. There’s no need to be ‘yielding’ because there’s no demand to be yielding - except from Griffin.

Supporting his position, Tabor cites an excerpt from the evaluations, saying “there is no question that her (Griffin’s) reasoning has a solid foundation; she demonstrated that by explaining herself in full and citing relevant statutes to support her argument.” And you comment that it shows, “also the indifference of other board members.”

The small excerpt cited ay demonstrate indifference, but the much more detailed comments found in the full document displays anything but. Edgecomb in particular is volumous, and Olson discusses at length some areas of improvement.

Moreover, though Griffin cites statutes, she doesn’t do so usefully. She states, for example, that it is the duty of the Superintendent to “cooperate” with the school board. This she has evidently done, to judge by the evaluation. Griffin’s argument succeeds only if *she* is the school board - but the statute does not apply to Griffin personally, but to the board taken as a whole.

Griffin’s examples are petty. She complains that the Superintendent routinely presents only one option to the Board. She complains that, although implementation of a certain policy was stipulated in the contract, the Board should have been able to determine *how* the policy was implemented. Yet these - if they are actually a problem for the board (taken as a whole) are very easily dealth with by the board, which can simply vote to reject the proposal or to require two options. Griffin’s problem is with the other board members, but she is taking it out on the superintendent.

It is also - I might add - very demeaning and unprofessional to refer to the superintendent by her first name throughout the evaluation. The complaints read like schoolyard whining. “MaryEllen has displayed a pronounced tendency to conceive a plan with her closest advisors…” “MaryEllen’s approach… can only be described as ‘meeting your own agenda.’” “MaryEllen must learn to forsee the challenges her recommendation may create…” “MaryEllen tends to promote her own vision…” This isn’t criticism. It’s pouting!

The discussion, which occupies most of the second half of the post, of Jennifer Faliero relocation to another district, is so obviously off-topic that it reeks of a personal attack, whether or not Tabor knows any of the participants. It is irrelevant to the issue at hand and is introduced only to discredit one of the five people supporting the superintendent (that four untainted voices nonetheless remain is not considered in your post).

I don’t know what the issues were, I don’t know what the 6/7 plan or FCAT are, and I might well line up against the Superintendent - and with Griffin - politically. I have no idea.

But as I say, this post is not a fair treatment of the matter. It supports Griffin for no good reason - and the last coulple of lines suggest that the motivation was purely partisan, and not based in a reasonable assessment of the issues at all.

1 comment:

  1. This Tampa Tribune Editorial may add some insight into the comments, or lack there of, of the Board members.

    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2007/aug/30/na-bad-behavior-on-school-board-will-hold-hillsbor/

    Bad Behavior On School Board Will Hold Hillsborough Back
    The Tampa Tribune

    Published: August 30, 2007

    Even the most patient school teacher would not stand for the bad behavior shown by some members of the Hillsborough County School Board.

    Temper tantrums and slamming doors. Snide remarks, innuendo and peer pressure.

    What is this, a junior high or the governing body of the nation’s ninth largest school district?

    The board’s split became clear in two recent events: Tuesday’s disastrous team-building workshop and the schizophrenic evaluation of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

    In both cases, the majority showed no clue about how to give honest, constructive feedback. And if board members can’t agree on where the district stands, how can they agree on where it needs to go?

    The board’s infighting gives the public little confidence that it can significantly improve outcomes. Given its poor high school graduation rate and the fact that most graduates must take remedial classes to enter a community college, Hillsborough’s school board needs a laser-like focus on improving the fundamentals.

    Yet a workshop meant to build relationships dissolved within an hour after April Griffin, the newest board member elected in November, said she lacked trust. Griffin had been criticized the previous week for questioning the process of appointing administrators.

    Veteran board member Candy Olson said ‘we all came in with things we wanted to change’ before understanding how the system works.

    Funny thing about this board. Senior members like to tell junior members how things work.

    Too often, their insight comes with a subtext of ‘back off.’

    When Jennifer Faliero first joined the board, she, too, complained about roadblocks, lines that couldn’t be crossed and a culture that perpetuates the status quo. Yet five years later, she led the charge in telling Griffin to change her style or ‘you need to resign.’

    Faliero, who has moved out of her district in violation of the law while she grapples with a divorce, was out of line. Elevating an argument to fever pitch does little to help the board help students.

    Following the rebuke, Griffin stormed out, slammed the door and never returned. While it’s understandable that she’d need a few minutes to compose herself, it was unprofessional to leave the meeting altogether. It raises questions about her ability to deal with adversity - a trait politicians need to succeed in public life.

    Faliero and Griffin clearly don’t like each other because of past political battles, but it is improper for them to carry this baggage into the boardroom.

    While Tuesday was messy, more concerning was the board’s wildly divergent evaluation of Elia.

    Griffin scored Elia so poorly that you would think she wanted the superintendent fired - though she joined her colleagues in unanimously voting to extend the superintendent’s contract.

    Meanwhile, Chairman Jack Lamb, member Carolyn Kurdell and Faliero gave the superintendent such over-the-top scores that they must have missed Elia’s missteps in changing school boundaries, altering high school teaching schedules, failing to administer performance reviews and selecting leaders for the transportation and purchasing departments.

    The evaluation - one of the most important documents the board produces all year - reflects neither Elia’s specific accomplishments nor the improvements needed. In his assessment, Lamb hardly completed a sentence. Only Doretha Edgecomb and Olson gave thoughtful, helpful insight.

    The community doesn’t want board members to act in lockstep. But it does want this board to get about the business of improving public education. To make it happen, members should leave their petty differences on the playground where they belong.”

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