Many people have asked me what I think will happen this Thursday at the state hearing being held at 1 p.m. (steamed live over the Internet, reportedly). Our DeKalb County Board of Education will have to present its case to the state Board of Education in response to the SACS downgrade of the school system to "Probation" status.
It's not clear who will be the "Prosecutor" in this non-trial event and what type of evidence has been collected, if any. The entire SACS report is rather suspect, if you ask me. I think the Probation status is well-deserved for a number of reasons. It's just that the reasons that come to mind are not necessarily the ones included in the report that started this ball rolling.
Here's the way I understand it:
- Complaints: An unidentified group of 50 unrelated individuals or groups over an unspecified time period complained to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) about the DeKalb County School System for a variety of reasons.
- Sorting: SACS data experts took those complaints and sorted them into pre-existing categories that SACS has determined are essential to the accreditation process. Since SACS is a private entity and has no direct obligation to the taxpayer, the process they used for creating these categories will likely remain a mystery.
- Pigeon Holes: Then, after using pre-defined categories and pigeon-holing the complaints into one or possibly more than one category, the "experts" noted which larger umbrella categories these complaints fell under. It was determined that a couple broad categories were the main issues.
- Chaos Duly Noted: So, SACS sent a review team of trained (we hope) interviewers to DeKalb County (from Alpharetta) and they hung out for an announced three day window. During that time, they were treated to some unscripted (yeah, right) chaos at every bend and turn of their discovery process. Missing funds, battling board members, distrustful leadership, textbooks in horrible shape and elected officials who, GASP, are guilty of trying to represent the constituents whom they were elected to represent.
- Interviews Conducted: The team interviewed the "chain of command" including the board members, the Superintendent, her direct reports and a few others who were likely hand-selected by these same folks and asked about the broad categories that were extrapolated in the not-so-scientific manner mentioned above.
- Write Stuff Down: They found stuff that they were probably supposed to find and wrote down stuff that they were supposed to write down and, just like the parents at various schools have done for years, they got themselves all worked up over these distractions and ran out of time to do any real digging into the original issues that the first 50 people complained about in the first place.
Think about how this would work if it were a place of business. If 50 customers complained, would the corporate office send in a group of investigators and ask them to spend most of their time talking to you and your co-workers about what you think might have gone wrong? Or would they talk to the customers? Would they ask you for the names of some customers they could speak to? Or would they investigate the complaints?
And, if they only spoke with you, your boss and the other folks you work with, would they then invest a lot of money trying to correct the things you brought to their attention and ignore the substance of the original complaints? Would the customers be satisfied with the process? Would any of the corrective actions actually help your company avoid making the same mistakes? Not the mistakes you and your goofball department blathered on about, but the mistakes that were voiced by the customers in the first place? You know, the people who complained.
Names May Change but the Game Remains
While the end result may be the same - removal of the board - does the process here really matter? Do we have a choice? It seems the ball is rolling and it doesn't really make a difference right now who started it rolling. What will be the biggest factor will be whether or not the state recommends board removal and then who is selected to fill those shoes.
And then, I suppose, the replacement board can get down to the business of correcting the issues that SACS identified as the problem areas, regardless of whether or not they have anything to do with the actual complaints made by the actual stakeholders in the system.
To sum it up:
- They must understand their job description, which is apparantly something that has been impossible for any other board member to do so far to date.
- They must not cave to the requests of those who elected them, which should be easy since they will not be elected.
- They must all get along with each other which should be easy since they will likely be selected with that purpose in mind.
- They should not micromanage which will be easy enough since they will probably not be selected based on their long history in education reform.
- And they should continue to serve until replaced, which will be a shorter than normal timeframe as already arranged by the state's delegation which had no idea any of this was going to happen (say it with me now... "yeah, right.")
- They will save the day (or at least the accreditation, for now).
The removed board members can petition to regain their previous posts and pick up where they left off. Or, they can wait until most people forget what happened and run for election all over again. (Paul Womack, Melvin Johnson are two who have accomplished this feat in the past.)
We could make it more entertaining by asking that they conduct the hearing pig latin or that they pantomine their answers or draw them on large sketch pads while those who attend are divided into two teams that shout out their guesses.
If we were still in college, we might make a drinking game out of listening for every time someone blames Sarah Copelin-Woods, or claims to not remember something. But, we wouldn't want to make a mockery of our own system of checks and balances. That's already being done for us.
And, it's not really that fun to watch (hence the lack of media coverage). It's just plain sad.
So, the next time someone asks me what I think about all this mess, I think I'll just ask them to wake me when it's over.