Sunday, May 19, 2024

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ABSS: More mediocrity, guaranteed


Well, we see that the current members of the Alamance-Burlington school board are just as committed to mediocrity as their predecessors had been.

The first illustration of that conclusion is based on the school board’s decision to allow the state’s school boards association to conduct the search for a new superintendent – and to do so in a “closed” fashion where all candidates, including the finalists, are kept secret from the public they will ostensibly serve.

Commendations to two school board members – Ryan Bowden and Dr. Charles Parker – who at least voted against the 5-2 majority in opposing the move last month.  (We’re not entirely sure they would have supported the remedy we see as needed, but at least they stood against the steamroller that is almost sure to replicate the pool of poor choices of the past.)

Alamance-Burlington schools have had a two-decades-long history of attracting a series of weak, lackluster, and ineffective, superintendents who didn’t make a dent in – or, in most cases, didn’t even try to address – improving the academic performance of local schools, students, or graduates.

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There’s an old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

ABSS school boards have allowed the school boards association to recycle mediocre superintendents from one area of the state to Alamance County, one right after another, over the past two decades.

And, we predict – with little fear of contradiction – that Alamance County will experience that same uninspiring result from this year’s search.

Meanwhile, Alamance Community College – using a more transparent process that identifies and brings to campus the top finalists to meet and be met by the faculty, students, and public at large – has had two outstanding selections: first Dr. Algie Gatewood, who served with distinction for 10 years, and the most recent hire, Dr. Ken Ingle.

While it’s too soon to say how well Ingle will do, or long he may stay, the odds are higher that ACC’s Ingle will succeed than any prospect that the school boards association may trundle out for consideration by ABSS.

Indeed, only two of the past five superintendents have actually completed their full, four-year tenures, although both had little academic success to show for their time at the helm.  Meanwhile, two other superintendents have been fired – or “allowed to resign,” in the parlance of negotiated resignation agreements – after very short tenures and a miserable performance, both in practical and academic issues.

Here’s an example of indifference of the board itself to academic excellence.  Indeed, as was the case with many of their predecessors, one could attend – or watch online – the school board meetings over the past six to twelve months and not hear any significant amount first discussion of anything even remotely touching on academics, much less academic excellence.

There’s plenty of finger-pointing – usually at the county commissioners or the General Assembly, almost always for not providing enough money (is there ever enough?); charter schools, private schools, or home schoolers for not being a part of the failing ABSS system.

The school board’s discussions are almost always budget-oriented – more spending, more programs, more bonuses, more employees – without a whit’s worth of discussion about actually improving education for the children in Alamance County schools.

The county has more schools flailing – and actually failing – schools than ever before.  About half of the county’s students aren’t performing at their expected grade levels, graduation rates are down, teachers are fleeing (most often due to poor discipline in their classrooms and administrators who won’t back them up) – and yet school board members are obsessed with more and broader hiring, bonuses, and always some new programs without any evidence of any improved academic impact.

The most recent school board meeting was the latest example.

With an actual straight face, all seven members acted like it wasn’t any particularly big deal to ask for a gargantuan 27 percent (!) increase in county spending in one year.

And for what?

Biden inflation is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not yet 27 percent.

There was no attempt to translate any of the millions in extra funding to any improvement in academics.

Surely one of the most laughable justifications for increased spending is to blame the end of the “free money from Washington,” i.e., federal stimulus funding from Covid-19, for some of their funding woes. Oh, yes, that was a part of the performance at Tuesday afternoon’s school board meeting.

It should not be forgotten (although they certainly want the commissioners and the public to have amnesia on the subject) that three of the current members – chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, vice chairman Donna Westbrooks, and Ryan Bowden – were three of the four members whose votes are responsible for squandering almost $20 million (!) of those precious federal dollars on bonuses for employees, repeatedly over the past three years.

Keep in mind, just by the way, that the state projects that ABSS will have a decline in enrollment in the next fiscal year.  But, of course, school bureaucrats and school board members think they still need – yea, deserve – big increases in spending.

Hopefully, county commissioners won’t just go along with this year’s attempt to raid the public purse – again.

And the county’s voters will at least get to weigh in selecting four board members in the November elections.  We can imagine some changes in the seating pattern.        

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