Monday, February 7, 2011

Where We're Coming From

Over the weekend a reader lamented that it was difficult for them to figure out what side KSN&C was on when it came to several issues.

[Edited] Richard, you were quoted as saying you would give Mr. Silberman a 95% approval rating (in the Herald-Leader last week). If you feel this way, why would you continue to print these posts about Mr. Silberman?

Or are you meaning to say the treatment of Goodin, Hurley-Richards, and Petrilli (which you clearly disapprove of) amounted to the 5% of Mr. Silberman's actions you disagreed with?

Or am I misreading the the posts? Perhaps you feel that Petrilli needed to be forced out of Booker T, Goodin needed to be escorted from Jesse Clark by security guards after she filed an civil rights complaint, and Hurley-Richards needed to fired after her altercation with a student at Cardinal Valley? From a confused reader.....

Yeah, I can see how that’s confusing. But maybe that’s a good sign. When KSN&C reports something, there is a sincere effort to tell both sides of the story.

Public debate is so “partisan” these days that everyone expects a writer to be “for” or “against” each person. This is a news and commentary site that tries to shoot down the middle. We report facts related to news stories with source citations or links, and distinguish the reporting from the opinions. As time permits, we do original reporting.

KSN&C does not allow flaming, but readers are invited to share their opinions as well. We even print reader’s anonymous comments (which we are not in love with, but understand the position some folks are in) even when those comments are critical of KSN&C.

When Jim Warren asked my opinion of Fayette county Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman’s administration, I considered his administration in total. And KSN&C readers may recall, I have argued that he is most likely Fayette County’s third most effective (best) superintendent in history, behind M. A. Cassidy and Guy Potts. I say likely, because although I have studied the history of the schools extensively, I have not completed the work that would have to be done to say that definitively. Cassidy, Potts and Silberman share a crucial characteristic. They were strong leaders. Cassidy and Silberman were also leaders during transitional periods in educational history.

I hope readers know that I have a deep respect for the job today’s superintendents are called to do. Love him or hate him; Stu Silberman took a rudderless district of 33,000 students or so, and charted a clear course. He advocated, pushed and shoved, to move the district in a unified direction. He set high goals, fixed the buildings and was effective in the community. He worked tirelessly, made countless decisions, managed a huge budget and motivated lots of people. Despite claims made elsewhere that FCPS was a district in trouble (due to NCLB results) we have maintained Silberman’s student achievement data are rather good. If a superintendent can do all that over a seven-year period and come out without too many dings, that person has performed way above average. The fact that he may have performed with his ego intact bothers me not at all. At times it has appeared to be too much about the man, and some have thought him thin-skinned, but I don’t know a strong leader who doesn’t believe in their own abilities to make change occur.

Had Warren asked me to rate Silberman on personnel matters alone, I would have had a harder time quantifying. As one reader pointed out recently, with Stu, sometimes it became a question of whether the ends justify the means.

I first became concerned about Silberman’s potential for snap judgments in personnel matters early in his tenure when a close associate was demoted - reportedly for failing to prevent her faculty from speaking at a board meeting; arguably their constitutional right. But that individual chose not to complain, I certainly did not investigate and it did not become a news story (and that was pre KSN&C, anyway). The objective data showed that the demoted principal’s scores jumped 12 points that year and I think it was a bad call.

When Peggy Petrilli jumped ship (or was pushed overboard – we’ll see what the appeals court says) it was a news story. We didn’t invent it. But we did pick it up; investigated, and reported. Heck, we even tweeted. For those of us who study school administration, this was an important story. Here you had the modern version of school leadership on trial. Petrilli was Silberman’s highly touted gap warrior and his “Sophie’s Choice” moment dealt him a blow. KSN&C explored both sides’ legal briefs and the testimony. We expressed surprise over the judge’s jury instructions the minute he gave them and printed material that was surely uncomfortable to both sides. Neither Petrilli nor Silberman wanted their dirty laundry aired, but the alternative was to not report. As a direct result of our reporting, I believe, FCPS began truly evaluating its principals. The district had been giving everyone high marks previously, as was revealed in testimony from district administration.

Readers and confidential sources pointed us to the Jill Cowan, Rosalind Hurley-Richards and transportation department stories along with a few more. Some things we print. Some we don’t. We don’t swing at every pitch and try to verify (through triangulation) stories before we print anything. When an allegation is unconfirmed, we say so.

It's too soon for me to know if the transportation department allegations are true or where the story may go.

I'm not sure Cowan deserved an interview, but I was always taught that when interviewing a woman (or any individual in a protected class), the last thing you wanted to tell them was that you were going hire someone from a different class - because of that class. Plus, suspending someone on the day they made a civil rights complaint takes balls the size of Alpha Centauri. If that's what happened, the district deserves to lose, but there won't be anything to celebrate. However it goes, we'll report it.

Teachers deserve the court's consideration when handling situations with tough students. On the other hand, nobody should support the manhandling of students and Silberman apparently believed Hurley-Richards drug the child down the hallway by his neck. The lower court didn't buy the evidence against the teacher and I'm guessing the appeals court won't either. However it goes, we'll report it.

KSN&C was not paying attention when board member Amanda Ferguson asked for a second opinion on the Hanna Report that Silberman had purchased in support of out-sourcing all FCPS legal services. The report stunk to high heaven, and we said so. Then we followed the story all the way to its conclusion when the Herald-Leader revealed the $200,000 payoff to keep Allen quiet. We did not print everything we knew.

KSN&C has no vote on any boards, does not hold public office, and makes no decisions regarding any school personnel or policies - but many of our readers are such persons. We do ask tough questions, second-guess the decision makers, and challenge popular narratives.

KSN&C is a place where discerning readers may come to think about the issues. It is written at the graduate level. We intend to be factual and thought-provoking. What you think is up to you.

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