Schools should look within first

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It would be so welcome here if the Salem-Keizer School Board would perform their duties and responsibilities so that the outcomes would establish a blazing new trail for public education in this mid-Willamette Valley Oregon community.  Unfortunately, S-K  School Board after each election, the school governing body starts out fresh but always ends up doing what its predecessor did with rarely an inventive or creative idea even tossed around, much less tried.

Now the local school board once again searches for a new superintendent.  In the first place, when the board finds it necessary to go after someone from some other state or place they never find the perfect fit with “skeletons” discovered soon after the new superintendent is ensconced in the administration.  Also, since these recruited folks from far and wide have no loyalty to Oregon and want the job to make more money and move up the promotion ladder, they will, as has just been the case with the most recent incumbent, move on to more lucrative financial digs as soon as another opportunity arises.

Meanwhile, in the former’s absence now, and before a new superintendent is hired, why is it that those several high-paid, and presumably well-educated and trained for school administration work in the district’s central office, cannot carry the responsibilities of running the schools here until a permanent replacement is found?  Surely the former school’s chief had a competent deputy to help her in all matters school-related. Would this person not be a logical interim substitute instead of paying a retired superintendent at a cost of about $100,000 for a half year’s stay mainly, it’s surmised, to keep the head honcho’s desk chair warm?

Why is it that a first search for a replacement cannot be limited to qualified, interested Oregon candidates?  If one’s not found, then expand the search to a national level.  Meanwhile, if one were found in the state, local taxpayers would be saved another $48,300 or the cost to hire a search firm based in Iowa?  Could the local board not advertise the position in state media, interview state-based candidates and save bundles of money for use in classrooms?  Every other school district administrator is hired that way and they’re more important than a superintendent to what happens in classrooms.

Out of what hat do these school board members pull salary numbers like $235,000?  Is that an amount that equals the cost of a respectable living standard in Salem or Keizer?  I’d argue that anyone could live with grace and style for a lot less.  However, it would seem that public education to school board members is that “good” people can be acquired only if the district offers a salary (watch out for those fringe benefits, too) that’s completely out of line with what other personnel in the district are paid.  There must be some educator out there who wants to be a superintendent who will work for less than $235K and I’d bet heavily that impressively resumed person can be found in our own state.

Then there’s the subject of public school governance: the main problem and the reason no reforms will ever come to fruition without its complete and total overhaul.  First and foremost in a governance model that makes a difference, it should be turned on its head.  Superintendents, who are primarily and almost exclusively politicians and not educators, should report to a council of classroom teachers in charge of the district.  Councils of teachers should also be in charge of those far too often authoritarian-bully personalities that go by the “principal” title, especially in our high schools.

Sadly enough, public school board meetings seldom if ever serve the purpose of providing cutting edge education leadership.  They are, to the contrary, sterile, uninspiring sessions where speakers rise to deliver hopelessly obtuse reports in education-speak that the superintendent has already approved to make her look good.  Any board member who does not go along soon finds himself ostracized.

And that pretty well sums up where we are in public education today.  Its total overhaul is the only path to something resembling viable change and a chance through an effective education for Oregon’s young people.  But we’d need a governor who can manage well to lead this effort with knowledge, skills and abilities absent in an office now where even the incumbent’s legacy in Cover Oregon is a catastrophic illness.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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