Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Faint Praise

Merlene Davis at the Herald-Leader reflected on the superintendency of Stu Silberman in her column today. It was a curiosity.

We don't know who the candidates are - or who the new superintendent will actually be - but Davis has gone all Biblical on us, rallying the troops to get ready for battle. Just what she's fighting for is much less clear.

Does Davis hope for a superintendent who will acknowledge the achievement gap? I'm fairly certain we can find a few thousand candidates who meet that standard.

Or is this the beginning of a quest for a superintendent who has a record of closing all achievement gaps somewhere else? I'm fairly certain we won't find any candidates who meet that standard.

Is Davis really calling for someone who is empathetic enough to reassure the African American community - and in the process allow community leadership to return to its well-deserved rest?

She says her reasons are "selfish" but I'll be darned if I know what they are. It sounds like she just wants to be treated with respect. And if that's it, I agree fully that every member of the community deserves no less. But her supporting rationale paints a confusing picture - to me at least.

One way to read the piece would lead one to believe that...
  • Silberman's retirement was shocking and very disappointing because he made the closing the academic achievement gap a priority.
  • He hired the "right" people and got rid of the wrong people.
  • He enjoyed the support of the the community, businesses and even the local government
  • ...was interested in all kids.
  • He understood and acknowledged the achievement gap
  • ...but he didn't do much to close it and monitoring it is was not a high priority.
  • His actions and results were disappointing.
  • There are still too many black boys in detention and special education.
  • There are far too many students dropping out of school ill prepared.
  • But Silberman acknowledges his disappointment.
  • So now the community must awaken from its rest and prepare to grapple for the right person to lead this school system.
  • The right candidate should be accepting of nothing less than excellence and have a proven record of closing the achievement gap and not just talk a good game.
Really? Is that the story?

If this was meant to explain the pacification of previously outspoken education advocates, OK. But it's not a very compelling story.

Was it was meant to signal the public that Fayette County is ready to up-the-ante and that the next superintendent would have to do more than make acknowledgements? If so, OK, but I think Silberman's supporters should regard his administration as a lesson on how hard the work is. It takes far more than rhetoric and school-based programs to even the playing field for our most disadvantaged students. Those things are necessary, but insufficient.

Was the sabre-rattling imagery really appropriate given the progress achieved by Silberman and many other folks in Fayette County well beyond the superintendent?
Do we simply want the next superintendent to continue to kick central office butts?
Somebody explain this to me, because I don't get it.
This from Merlene Davis at H-L:
For purely selfish reasons, I was saddened to learn Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman was calling it quits.

I think a lot of folks should be saddened.

Instead of having a schools chief who has demonstrated a belief that our focus should be about children, who has cleaned out dead weight from Central Office and who encouraged personnel to return phone calls within 24 hours, we now don't know who we're going to get.

I don't think I have the strength to go back to the way it once was...
...when Silberman acknowledged that black, poor and disabled children were getting short shrift in Fayette County and promised to change that culture, I wanted to believe him. So did others who were battle-worn and tired.

We knew, however, that folks don't just willingly give up the time-honored right to
be promoted to Central Office — a place with no innovation and no desire to address difficult problems — where they could then wait to die...

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