Tomorrow, the Kentucky house and senate education committees will be holding a joint meeting to discuss, among other things, taking power away from SBDMs. Read more from KASC’s post: Keep Your Voice.
Koch-Brothers aligned “free-market” proponent BIPPS is one of the anti-SBDM speakers tomorrow. In an opinion letter that appeared in several papers across the state recently, they say teachers and parents are not equipped to make curriculum decisions. That’s ludicrous. Teachers are among the BEST equipped persons to do this. They have master’s degrees and certifications in education, are current on what’s going on in education and classrooms, and they know their students. A superintendent who, in a district the size of ours, may not have taught in decades and may only set foot in our building maybe once a year. A school in a high poverty area has many different needs and learning styles than a more-affluent magnet-only school. A superintendent has their own “adult-centered” agendas and when the state puts demands on them that force them to pay more attention to how things “look” than what they know to be right, they don’t always have the ability to do what’s best for the school. And depleting power from the local school level will only make matters worse.
I know this first hand.
My son graduated from an “Advisory SBDM” school. As a high-poverty school, we were in the first cohort to hit priority status under the new regulations, and the SBDM was made “advisory” prior to our arrival. When we found the school, the principal was dynamic and the school was in the midst of a turnaround. Despite being the lowest performing school in the state at the time, the energy was electric, and my son absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, at the end of my son’s first year there, because the principal did not get the school out of priority status in the state’s allotted 3-4 years, he was forced to resign.
His school went the next several months with interim principals, each having to leave after completing 6 weeks of service so they didn’t jeopardize their retirement plans. Soon into the school year, JCPS considered reimagination of several schools with innovation in mind and a district-devised “plan” was proposed and pitched to board members as something “everyone loved.” We were told the plan was necessary in order to “prevent us from being taken over by the state,” even though we had no leadership and no one representing the students or teachers or parents had been consulted in crafting “the plan.” And it was FAR from being “loved.” Finally, after numerous objections from parents, teachers, staff, students, alumni and community members, and speaking at board meetings and to the media, by Christmas break, JCPS Halts Redesign Of Shawnee High, Considering Principal Applicants. Soon, we had a new principal. SBDM meetings resumed and capacity was beginning to resume. However, our new principal left abruptly a year and a half later (two weeks before the end of the school year) and the next principal was not selected until 36 hours before the next school year started. Shawnee was the FIRST school to know they needed a new principal and, despite repeated appeals to the superintendent, it was the LAST one to get one. That would not have happened if we had an empowered SBDM.
Each principal selected by the superintendent was loyal to her, not the students and parents and teachers in the building. With the most recent replacement, the superintendent overlooked the overwhelming support from the SBDM advisory council to name one of the HIGHLY qualified APs in the building who knew the kids and could keep the momentum going. Instead, she put someone she either owed a favor or who she knew would do her bidding in the open slot. And she did so at the last possible moment. Our SBDM implored the superintendent to realize that our kids needed consistency. We even asked if this had been communicated to the new principal. Instead, this new principal changed EVERYTHING. She killed our mentoring program. She realigned the staff and put them in jobs that they weren’t suited for. Not knowing what worked or didn’t work, and not being given time to prepare, she got her marching orders from the superintendent who only saw us as “failing.” Our new principal clearly intended to make her mark, even if it upset the apple cart for these kids, AGAIN.
One week, when student fights had gotten out of control, the principal denied it was a problem. She also apparently didn’t log them in the system, because she didn’t want to look bad or she was following a directive to not report. When pressed, our superintendent claimed she couldn’t help us with added resources, because the “data didn’t support it.” So, our students videotaped the fights and sent them to the media. A few days later, we got the support we needed. Unfortunately, in the school that already had the highest turnover in the district, and where relationships matter, we also got an unwelcome consequence. Three of our most beloved staff members were intentionally moved to different schools. Intimidation tactics were employed that sent the message that more retribution would be necessary if these “factions” continued. One of the displaced staff members was our only high school counselor during critical scholarship and college application window — in a high-poverty school that NEEDS help with college applications and scholarships more than most. This retaliation would never have been able to happen if the SBDM had been involved in staffing decisions.
Our new principal also was able to select members to serve on the advisory SBDM who were not engaged enough to ask hard questions, and often missed meetings. Business could not get done. She chose what she wanted to share for input, and made the important decisions behind closed doors. At one point, I had to do an open records request when we wanted to simply see the budget. This lack of transparency is one of the reasons we have been opposed to charters. We do not need it in our public schools too. It almost seems like someone has an agenda to make public schools on par with charters, doesn’t it? So charters can be more competitive.
My son’s school met its AMOs for several years in a row, but because they couldn’t get out of the bottom 5%, they couldn’t get their SBDM powers back. Such an arbitrary and moving target should not be used to hold decision makers hostage. However, the superintendent could have helped his school meet this goal by simply changing the student assignment plan, since the inequities had never been made right after being assigned the highest poverty levels in the district in 2008, and since test scores are an indication of wealth, nothing more. (Makes you wonder if his school wasn’t set up that way so other schools could be more successful.) Anyway, who is held accountable for the failings of a school when decisions are not in their control? The superintendent is supposed to be, which is why you say you want to give them this power. But there is no evidence anyone is paying the price at my son’s school except the kids.
So, while one county has indicated that there are problems at their schools, there is no reason to abandon parental and teacher involvement in decision making at the local school level in other districts. I can assure you doing so will create many, many more opportunities for delays, lack of transparency and corruption than it solves. Not just here in Jefferson County, but in districts across the state.
Parent of 2016 JCPS Graduate
Former SBDM Member
Want to share your thoughts on SBDMs? Click here to contact the education committee members, or email them all at the same time.