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“A Truth Revealed”

August 30, 2010
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This story comes to us from Dr. Victoria Young, an Idaho veterinarian and mother of two college students. She helped in classrooms for eleven years and in her district and community for eighteen years, including researching and writing for a Safe Schools grant and a Science Partnership grant. Her book is called Education’s Missing Ingredient: What Parents Can Tell Educators and is published by Rowman & Littlefield Education Publishers. Find out more by visiting her website at www.amissingingredient.com.

A Truth Revealed

“Experience is the oracle of truth.”  — James Madison

Honestly, I didn’t set out looking for trouble in my schools. The first time it found me was in, of all places, my son’s second grade classroom. And, yes, my schools are not “high-performing schools.” A fair description would be to call them dysfunctional and under No Child Left Behind various ones are classified as “failed” over and over again. It isn’t hard to understand why.

Volunteering in the classroom two days a week brought the development of a trusting and enjoyable relationship with my son’s teacher. It was a pleasure to be around the kids, be “in the know” about what was going on in school (can’t always depend on boys to tell you, you know), and I can now see how much the teacher probably liked having an occasional adult conversation. That’s what got us both in trouble.

Our community had passed a bond designated for technology updates. The teacher sat on the committee that would decide how our schools’ money would be spent. The question was whether to put computers in the classrooms or set up a computer lab. She asked my opinion.

Weeks later, in hushed tones during a recess, she’s asking me if I remember our conversation. “Yes.” Well, she’s now going to have a letter of reprimand put in her permanent file for having discussed an issue with a person not on the committee. I hadn’t said anything — personal conversations stay personal with me. Besides, it wasn’t anything I had thought twice about. It wasn’t a big deal!

She had told the committee that she had asked a parents’ opinion. Obviously, she hadn’t thought it was a big deal either. So, of course I would go with her, her teacher representative, and union lawyer to the meeting scheduled in the superintendent’s office.

I don’t remember what I said, but I’ll never forget what I heard. Out of the mouth of the (by then) red-faced superintendent came the words, “Parents are not part of the loop.” Slip of the tongue — the truth of the matter revealed.

Currently, there’s a fair amount of “teacher union bashing” going around these days. Like teachers, I’m a professional myself, a veterinarian. We don’t have a “union.” But the majority of us don’t have our jobs on the line based on whether or not we have an irrational or abusive administrator.

I don’t use this story in my book but I did pick the following quote to use:

“School people are to the last degree impatient of criticism and suggestion. They resent them as a reflection on their personal character. As one man, they rush to the defense. The better among them excuse the worst and the worst grow abusive.”

- Nicholas Murray Butler

Dr. Butler’s use of “school people” was in the context of talking about administration and I think this is a good example of defensiveness on the part of an administrator. Later in my school “career,” I would encounter abusive behavior… But, I bet you want to hear the rest of this story.

The matter went in front of a special meeting of the school board. That night, I do remember what I said and what ticked me off. When it was finally my turn to testify, last (and I don’t like talking in front of groups), I calmly and very briefly told my story. And the board had no questions for me — you could feel it in the room; they had made their decision before we even started. A panicky feeling sent me into a bit of a tirade opening with… “you don’t have ANY questions for me?” I’m dragged to the center of this insignificant tit-for-tat!

I looked them in the eyes and pointed out how wasteful of everybody’s time this whole thing had been. I scolded them all, like they were very bad little kids. It ended when I turned to the school board lawyer and said “And I assume you aren’t here for free tonight.”…I think that was the clincher. The matter was dropped.

Dysfunctional districts are more inclined to exclude parents and the community in their decision-making processes. This is a direct reflection on the quality of leadership. If the school board doesn’t question their actions, there is a lack of accountability of administration.

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