Man in the mirror: Change your ways

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By Jim Waters

Now would be a good time for those charged with educating and leading our nation’s young people to take a good, long look in the mirror and reevaluate their priorities and practices.

It’s not enough for leaders in our educational system – whether iconic coaches of powerhouse football programs or local superintendents and the school boards who employ them – to barely do what’s legally required. They have a moral mandate, too.

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Legally, legendary Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno was only required to report incidents of abuse to his immediate superiors. But if those superiors’ response did not reflect the seriousness of the situation, all debate is removed about whether he – or anyone else involved for that matter – had a moral obligation not to allow a cover-up to occur.

A cover-up of different sorts is going on in Kentucky.

Students in some of the commonwealth’s persistently failing school districts have no one holding those in power sufficiently accountable for the educational maltreatment occurring in their classrooms.

Instead, these failing districts usually have enablers who seem more than willing to suppress the truth about their performance in the name of protecting a district or a popular leader from proper scrutiny – much less any real consequences.

For instance, the Dayton Independent School district in Northern Kentucky is one of Kentucky’s smallest – only 32 of the commonwealth’s 174 districts are smaller – yet Gary Rye, its superintendent, takes home the 19th-highest salary among all of the state’s superintendents.

Yet despite the fact that the only high school in Rye’s district is among the state-designated “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools” – schools that have spiraled downward in a state of continuing academic failure for years – he will take home a taxpayer-funded salary of $141,441.27 this year.

What we don’t know is whether the Dayton school board has held Rye accountable in any fashion for his district’s failure. Apparently, no written evaluation of Rye exists.

In a letter to the Bluegrass Institute, the board’s attorney Matthew DeMarcus wrote: “The Dayton Independent Board of Education conducts an oral evaluation. Therefore, there is no hard copy or electronic copy of the evaluation.”

While state law allows school boards to establish their own policies for evaluating superintendents, it mandates that once procedures are established, they must be followed.

That’s what so puzzling about the Dayton board’s action. Not only does its policy state that the board “shall develop procedures and forms for the evaluation of the Superintendent,” but also that the superintendent’s annual “summative evaluation shall be made available to the public on request.”

This requirement was not forced upon this board by the state. They made it their policy, but apparently refuse to follow it when doing so may present an inconvenience for the image of the district or its leaders.

Where are the “forms?” How about those “summative evaluations … available to the public on request?”

We’re not talking here about people in charge of the quality of widgets being turned out in some factory. This is about the future prospects of hundreds of young Kentuckians in every district where such educational hanky-panky is rampant.

So, even if school board members are not legally required to report on the failure of those entrusted to lead, they are morally bound to do so.

The Good Book warns: “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

“We don’t have them because we just do ‘oral evaluations’ of the superintendent” speaks of the leaders of a failing school district that needs to take a collective look in the mirror.

Let’s hope they – and every official in all failing Kentucky school districts – don’t like what they see.

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