TELLING IT LIKE IT SEEMS TO BE
Having followed local public education issues for at least 10 years, I am disappointed in the current lack of both good news coverage by the Globe and considered public debate over such issues. This blog or essay tells the story at least as I see how we got to this divide in how to best govern our schools.
At least since 2000, when I first became familiar as a substitute teacher with Joplin Schools it was apparent who was in charge of running the schools. It was the administrators, the people that could demand how students and teachers behaved and taught. At least from the perspective of students, parents and teachers, the school principals were the focus of disagreements when issues arose and that was not very often. As best I could tell, each teacher pretty much ran his or her own classroom and as long as no one was disciplined there was little or no concern expressed.
I see that as management by not telling anyone they are doing anything wrong. Some would call it the reverse, positive reinforcement I suppose. I recall only one public spectacle associated with firing a tenured teacher in a public BOE hearing. A teacher’s desk caused a drug dog to alert, drugs were found, an investigation ensued and she was ultimately fired by the BOE sometime shortly after the turn of the century. Other than that no big controversy publicly it seemed and BOE elections were low key events for sure.
Then a new Superintendent arrived on scene in 2008. Initially there was no major outcry of discontent about public education. Some publicity related to low standardized test scores was being noted by then, but again, no big outcry about low student performance, teacher moral, etc. Then the tornado hit. That certainly caused the public to take notice, very positive notice of how the new Superintendent led efforts to reopen schools and keep them running during the long recovery and rebuilding effort. Joplin had a short-lived public hero in Dr. Huff, for a while.
Them he and his administrators decided to fire a teacher for exercising poor judgment. That was not a cut and dried legal issue associated with drugs. It was a judgment call about compliance with written BOE policies and alleged failure to conform to those policies. The outcome was another dismissed teacher by the full BOE, a 7-0 vote. But the fallout was different by a long shot and Joplin began to see politics intersect with public school operations.
That dismissed teacher, Randy Turner, immediately launched a tirade against Dr. Huff and the BOE soon afterwards. There were some angry teachers and students as well that protested against his dismissal. That outrage has continued for now three years and BOE elections have become controversial to say the least. And the “side” or opposition to the old BOE way of doing business, which was to support the administration, has become the loser in public opinion now.
In now two years of BOE elections, the old guard if you will has been defeated and now three new members are on the BOE that call for change. The public wants that to happen no doubt now, maybe. But what does the public really want in the details? That becomes more difficult to determine unless one only listens to the loudest and the anonymous public speakers or writers.
Here is where the Globe has failed to fulfill a public service of keeping the public informed about the real disagreements surrounding public education in Joplin over the last three years. It has totally ignored the outrage expressed at least on a weekly basis against Dr. Huff and the BOE in the public blog, the Turner Report, written in virulent and persistent form by the dismissed teacher.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Globe has ignored that blog is because Turner is virulently critical of the Globe itself and it focuses that criticism on the editor, Carol Stark. While she does not receive the same headline treatment such as Dr. Huff in that blog, she is occasionally held in high disdain therein for sure. The only writer published in the Globe it seems is me in most cases. According the Turner, one of the big mistakes made over the years by the Globe is to publish my columns under my name from time to time.
Whatever the reasons maybe that the Globe ignores Turner and his ideas, there is no doubt that ideas related to public education coming from one side are Turner ideas however. His ideas cannot now be ignored. Instead they should be exposed in the full light of public debate, both in the Globe and in public debate on the part of the BOE in all of its meetings.
If you have read the Turner Report for a year or so at least here are some key issues and how Turner advocates their resolution:
- Let teachers teach, whatever and however they choose to teach anything and grade student performance according to the judgment of each teacher only.
- Abolish any State or Federal control or mandates related to student performance, or teacher performance as well. No Child Left Behind or now Common Core Standards, and any State tests to measure student performance to those standards are anathema to Turner and his supporters.
- Huff should be summarily fired immediately.
- Turner has filed his own complaint against Dr. Huff to the Missouri Ethics Commission. He also submitted numerous accusations against Dr. Huff and R-8 administrators to the recently completed State Audit of R-8.
- Three now current members of the BOE, Fort, Koch and Martucci have received strong support from Turner during their campaigns. He also has supported the former BOE member, Jim Kimbrough, in the past couple of years.
There is more of course about who and what Turner supports but I won’t write them all down now. But make no mistake, he disdains Steele and Landis, current and longer term members of the BOE and supports the above three members. Ms. Banwart remains unsupported and not attacked as well, for now, by Turner. He is hoping I am sure that she joins his “side” in the current 6 member BOE lineup. If she does not and a 3-3 tie vote over who becomes the next President of the BOE or who is selected by the BOE to become the replacement for Roberts, well Ms. Banwart will undoubtedly be ridiculed by Turner, virulently if he follows his normal path to show disagreement with his views.
There are now two very clear “sides” on the new BOE. The side that has demanded changes has three ardent members, Fort, Koch and Martucci. You can be assured that they will move quickly to change a lot of things in R-8 once they achieve a clear majority with a 4th member. If or when that happens, by getting Ms. Banwart to vote with them or putting Kimbrough in the currently vacant seat, then you will see at least a 4-3 vote on major issues affecting R-8.
The first “test” will be who becomes the BOE President, Fort or Steele. That is a big so what to me as the President has no political power other than press coverage. If minority members want to speak, inject debate into BOE meetings, etc. they can do so without the support of the President of the BOE. They can also speak publicly for themselves in opposition or even select a spokesman for their “side” to speak on their behalf if they like. But the crunch time vote will come in about 2-3 weeks when the vacant seat is filled. The “Turner side” will be a rock solid vote for Kimbrough, come hell or high water and if a 3-3 tie prevents filling that seat with Kimbrough you will hear at least Koch announce again how the other “side” just wants to maintain some form of status quo. Of course Koch is wrong. The opposition to Koch’s views is simply because he has promulgated not specific views other than “support academic excellence”. As if any sane member of any BOE would object to academic excellence I suppose!!!
Once a President is elected and the vacant seat on the BOE is filled THEN we will see how things work out on issues of substance. Take for example the current issue of funding a contractor to help improve student performance on upcoming Common Core related State testing. One assumes the “turner side” will vote no to that contract approval. Saving money for schools will be the public reason for that vote for sure. Then we will see if any initiatives that required BOE approval to spend money coming from the “Huff Administration side” will gain approval from the new BOE.
You see there may well be two obvious sides on the current BOE. I will call them, as above, the “turner side” and the “huff administration side” until proven wrong by actual BOE votes. Of course both sides will disclaim such titles. Both will claim they are only on the side of the students, to which I reply “Oh Bullshit” to be frank.
So whose side am I on, one should ask. I am on the side of people that can clearly articulate the best path forward to improve the quality of the product of our schools, the students that graduate therefrom after a full dose, 13 years, of K12 education. I demand each and every graduate to be a capable of becoming a productive citizen in a modern society the day they graduate from High School, period.
That means they are ready in every way to go the college without remedial training and do well in college. Or they are ready to attend trade schools or community colleges and do the same. Or they are ready to assume the responsibility of a full time job and be able to quickly move beyond entry level wages to wages that can support raising a family later on.
I want public schools to only graduate students that are READY to live as productive adults in our society. If students fail to demonstrate such readiness after 13 years of K12 education, the public schools should provide a certificate showing their shortcomings, why they are not yet ready to enter society as functioning adults. If they have failed to demonstrate the ability to read and write at the 12th grade level or do math at that level or behave as expected of an 18 year old in society, then they do not graduate with a high school diploma. They are simply allowed to move on into society once they reach the age of 18 without a “trophy”.
I hope you can see from my description of what I “want” from public schools the real challenge of ever getting such an outcome from every graduating student. It requires telling a lot of people, students first and foremost, that they are NOT READY to move on and upward. They are NOT READY for the next grade, next course in high school, etc. The must first “do ……” satisfactorily to DEMONSTRATE their ability to perform each step of the way thru K12 education.
Once you tell students such information you must also tell parents, who will raise as much hell as the students probably. And if a teacher says one thing and the “school” says differently then you have a fight on your hands with teachers as well as students and parents.
Hmmm. According to Turner and his supporters we have just such a fight in Joplin right now. Some students, parents and teachers are mad as hell against Huff and the R-8 administration. That is simply because Dr. Huff and some of his associates have started telling some people that they are not performing as required, starting with Turner three years ago, or was it four?
Dr. Huff said it clearly not long ago it seems. He is quoted in the Turner Report saying in essence that R-8 is not firing too many teachers. Instead it is not hiring the right ones to teach in our public schools. Wow, that out to make the NEA happy as a clam, right! Think the “turner side” will support the NEA? You bet your bippy they will so get out you checkbooks are you happy campers when you get the changes headed our way from the “turner side”.
Or will it be the “fort side”, etc.??