State of the School Corporation: Roll Over and Play Dead

Roll Over, Rover!*

In Bloomington recently the new (7 months on the job) Superintendent offered a kind of State of the School Corporation address and our local paper chose to offer mostly pictures of the event rather than any analysis.  Here is a link (pay-wall) to the “news” of the event, “MCCSC superintendent DeMuth outlines school progress in State of the Corporation address.”  There is, however, no news in it unless you count DeMuth stating she stays up at night worrying about preparing students for state testing and keeping kids safe from the “outside world” and “bullies.”

It was interesting to note that “Tom Bunger, board president of the Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools, said he was pleased with the event and would like to be a part of future, public forums regarding education.”  Is he a paymaster making a not-to-subtle suggestion that the Foundation be more involved in what the MCCSC offers to public view?  (I think that would have been a good question to ask…”Tom, are you suggesting…”)  Is it news that Tom is a guy whose work must go some way to describing his politics?  Real Estate Lawyer, Estate Lawyer, School Law.  Now that’s interesting isn’t it?  In fact, Tom shows himself to be a real busybody in managing your community–Hospital Board, Church Board, School Foundation, Salvation Army Board, Community Bible Studies.

Those are some interesting pursuits for a guy involved in property law and schools.

But we’ll leave good old Tommy alone…for now, and turn to today’s H-T editorial (Our Opinion) regarding the DeMuth Show, “MCCSC superintendent’s first assessment of schools shows pressures on public education.”  Some excerpts and then a bit of commentary.

Judy DeMuth’s first State of the School Corporation speech was not bold or brash. It did not spell out a unique, creative, innovative vision for the Monroe County Community School Corp.

It struck a tone of commitment, confidence and realism from a superintendent who is entering her seventh month with MCCSC. It represented a quiet style of leadership that said, “We’re going to try things to improve achievement, measure whether they are working and go from there.”

The lesson outlined how MCCSC must operate outside of its core responsibility, which is educating students: As the county’s fourth largest employer with nearly 1,900 employees; as an entity that serves more than 2 million meals and snacks a year; as a property owner with 31 buildings; as a transportation business that coordinates 120 bus routes that cover 8,800 miles a day.

It also touched on challenges some might not consider when they look at their own child: that 15.6 percent of the students served by MCCSC have a need classified as “special,” or that 33 percent come from families with low enough incomes to qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The realism surfaced when DeMuth talked about preparing students to do well on high-stakes standardized tests, which, she said, “have been imposed by the state and we know what our responsibility is” in regard to them. She said many of the referendum dollars have been spent to make sure all students are ready, prepared and confident to take those tests, because that’s what the state says students need to do, no matter what she or others might think about the tests’ usefulness.

DeMuth deserves praise for simply giving the public address, the first State of the School Corporation address in recent memory. She’s too new in her job to evaluate how successful she’ll be, but her priorities are solid as are her plans to evaluate spending and programs that are in place.

Results of her leadership style will be easier to evaluate a year from now. Until then, she deserves the community’s trust and support.

A not unfair assessment of the actual difficulties of managing a large public system. I would ask that we not employ terms like “realism” as this is often a kind of code for “let the experts work” because we can’t understand the burden of this business. But I’ll return to that.

I suppose the most objectionable part of this opinion is its style–always committing to a characterization that cannot be actual but is instead a kind of H-T idealization of certain “leaders”. For example:

It represented a quiet style of leadership that said, “We’re going to try things to improve achievement, measure whether they are working and go from there.”

This is in quotes but indicates that it was not something actually said. This, then, is what we call writing fiction.

Further the piece offers DeMuth praise for even giving this address as if she shouldn’t have too because no one else has done so in “recent memory” (whatever that means–as the local “memory” one imagines the paper could actually tell us when the last event like this was). Well, how about we make it a requirement for our public institutions to report to us more frequently?

And then, weakly, you “should” on us to Trust and Support the Lady: no one in public office deserves any de facto or a priori trust or support. (Fishing for latin terms makes me sound smart, right?) Rather, every action is the bellwether of how we assess her work. (Is there a “standardized” test for Superintendents? I’ll check the ALEC website for a white paper.)

If nothing else has been learned from the last decade we might at least all have been bludgeoned into no longer seeing our authority figures as beneficent beings who have ours or humanity’s best interests at heart. Judy DeMuth may indeed be “trying her best” to deal with the realities of the the despotism of the State, but this will not make the world any better. It is simply a capitulation.

And so back to the beginning. Two things are noted that really are very important.

1. Realism. The state is squeezing us. Do what they say or lose funding, lose your license to teach or be an administrator. Test so we may grade you (degrade you) in order to push our agenda of private education. You may not know this in Bloomington because the newspaper has not been keeping you aware of it. But the state is about to employ a grading system that will render fully a third of all schools failures (interesting that this number aligns with our poverty stats quoted in the piece). The wait and see and trust attitude will lead to the state taking over our schools.

2. We can stand together and opposed in full knowledge of what our government in Indiana and the nation is doing to our schools or we can sit and admire a “quiet” leadership style that simply follows the state’s orders. We will be the less for it and our schools as an institution, will have failed us, while succeeding for the United States of Corporations or ALEC-land for short.

It is happening as we sip coffee and appreciate the gifts of public performance and media gentility.

A further point as to “realism.” The editorial offers the realities of running a system of this size and this was a valid and important item to stress:

The lesson outlined how MCCSC must operate outside of its core responsibility, which is educating students: As the county’s fourth largest employer with nearly 1,900 employees; as an entity that serves more than 2 million meals and snacks a year; as a property owner with 31 buildings; as a transportation business that coordinates 120 bus routes that cover 8,800 miles a day.

This actually then must lead us to ask different questions. How can we operate an institution that we conceive of like the above in conjunction with the institution we want to have as regards the inculcation and expansion of minds into a humanistic learning endeavor?

Clearly they must be separated. Operations budgets should not diminish personnel budgets or program budgets.  Does this then require two Superintendents of equal power so that one perspective may not trump the other.

Further, we might ask now, rather than when it’s too late (as it nearly is) how we might actually reorganize the system so as not to be beholden to the whims (rather, intentions) of the state’s funding terrorism?

*AnnieGreenSprings’ photostream

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah Stup January 14, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I was a little confused by the confluence of the school system as an educating body, and the school system as an operating facility (property, food, buses, etc.). To me, the HT article did nothing but paint a picture of a very coy DeMuth, quietly “doing the best she can.” You’re right, this doesn’t seem like the appropriate type of leadership given the current educational climate in the state. I hate to say it, but this article feels very chauvinistic to me.

    “Judy DeMuth’s first State of the School Corporation speech was not bold or brash. It did not spell out a unique, creative, innovative vision for the Monroe County Community School Corp.

    It struck a tone of commitment, confidence and realism from a superintendent who is entering her seventh month with MCCSC. It represented a quiet style of leadership that said, “We’re going to try things to improve achievement, measure whether they are working and go from there.”

    Doesn’t painting the school superintendent as a meek little lady in the corner doing her best to manage a MASSIVE system (implied from the data shared about the size of the operating school system) lend itself to this corporate takeover, if, in the end, the “best” she can do isn’t bold or creative?

    Reply
  2. Douglas Storm January 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

    confused by me or the article?

    You make an interesting point about how the paper seems to paint a passive picture of the female leader.

    Reply

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