We’ve had a few stories in the last few days about the resignation of a top school administrator and the general dysfunction that is occurring at the board and administrative level in the Camdenton School District. I wanted to add my two cents to these reports because I’m a big believer in the importance of a good education. After good parenting, it’s the best thing you can give to a child.
From my perspective as a parent, manager of a business and member of this community, I am greatly concerned as to what I see happening with our school board. In my opinion, and I don’t think I’m being too dramatic ― the quality of our educational system at Camdenton is in danger of deteriorating.
My family moved here nearly five years ago. Before that, my children attended school in three different communities. My wife and I have always been involved parents. Our children generally do well at school. I’ve been involved with reporting on schools in many cities for more than 20 years. As such, I feel that I have some experience and perspective with school districts.
I’m not going to say that the Camdenton School District is perfect or that there aren’t politics or that there isn’t room for improvement (every district has these issues). But I do feel strongly that the district does a pretty good job.
However, you wouldn’t believe that listening to some school board members and their actions are now negatively impacting the district.
Being in the newspaper business, I’ve seen this happen before: An idealistic board member or two (or three) believe that they have been brought in to be the idealists and that they have all the answers. They are certain that things are very broken and that someone is hiding something. They start asking questions ― many questions ― digging into the minutia of day-to-day responsibilities. They take it upon themselves to understand even the smallest of details. In short, they try to take control and manage the employees that report to the board.
That’s where the mistake lies ― boards are not meant to manage. It’s not their job. They are meant to lead. The school administrators and teachers, who are trained and tenured and are experts in their field ― are to manage. They must be trusted to do their day-to-day work and bring forth the important issues for the board to determine which direction to go. Board members should be informed ― but they shouldn’t know the job as well as the employee (which seems to be the goal of some board members).
But Laura Martin, John Beckett and Jim Besancenez obviously don’t trust school administrators (Martin has been very vocal about her distrust of other board members and administrators on her blog saying that her trust of them “was at an all time low” and citing conversations with administrators that allegedly showed their inadequacies.).
Page 2 of 3 - The result of this is obvious. The board members don’t trust the employees. In turn, the employees don’t trust the board.
Rather than deal with the uncertainty of being employed or the daily interference of board members, the employees seek jobs elsewhere. The board and district then start getting a reputation as a bad place to work. If you think the relationship of the board with the school administration won’t factor into recruiting a quality replacement for Dr. Henry ― you are very much wrong.
The answer here is for Martin, Beckett and Besancenez to start treating people with respect. They need to show some level of trust and discretion. Stop saying publicly that you don’t trust the leadership at the school. Don’t talk about a shortcoming of an administrator on your blog. Don’t fan the flames of the concerns of parents by pointing to government interference as an obstacle to our children’s education. Transparency is important, but so is common sense and treating people with common courtesy.
Which leads me to the other issue I want to address.
Another glaring problem is that extreme ideals are starting to get in the way of reality. I’m not a big government guy. In fact, the less government the better as far as I’m concerned. But some government and government assistance has to be. It’s a lovely thought that we could exist without federal grants (or in the three’s view – federal interference) but it’s not reality. We are too dependent on it.
Half our school kids in the Camdenton School District receive aid for lunches. Hundreds of parents are assisted by before- and after-school programs that the government helps fund. Thousands of Camdenton students have received college aid through government funded loans and grants. To start cutting off those sources because of some specter of big brother controlling everything is just hurting the chances of our children to succeed in life.
Plus it’s not reality. In my job, I’ve been around politicians and government workers my whole life. There is no way these people can be organized or smart enough to come up with a plan in which they totally control the way we educate our children through a standardized test or program. It’s just not going to happen. Even if it was the plan, government doesn’t have the skills, talent or persistence to pull it off. I understand the concern, but what the board is doing is adhering to an extreme philosophy (no government involvement) rather than modern day reality.
So board members, if you want to start cutting out big government – please start somewhere else. Don’t take away from our children. If we have opportunities to gain by applying for grants ― local, state or federal ― let’s do it. It doesn’t sound like that’s being promoted right now.
Page 3 of 3 - To close, I do think all of the board members have the best intentions. I think they all have the right to have their voice heard. But they need to temper those voices with common sense so that some other voices may be heard. Our children deserve it.