That gets to the heart of the matter for the Cobb system.
It’s not enough to have a better plan or strategy, a point made a few days ago by interim Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis, the retired University System of Georgia chancellor hired to do a massive cleanup after the APS test-cheating scandal.
“No matter what strategy you adopt, culture will always trump strategy,” Davis was quoted in news reports. “I believe we must change the culture of the organization. We have to move to a more open, more transparent and more empowering culture.” He stressed the “demand that we listen more, that we engage our partners more.”
To his credit, Dr. Hinojosa has already said restoring the people’s trust in the school district is high on his to-do list. In a May visit to Cobb, he told Journal reporters he will do a lot of listening to staff, parents and others from the community with a plan to listen to a hundred people in his first three months on the job.
After all the listening, he will have to do more than merely shake up the central office. Starting at the top, he must dismantle the old culture piece by piece to:
Get rid of the culture of manipulation and hide-and-seek by superintendents playing one school board member against another and hiding information from the board and the public to maintain control. Too often in the past, board members have played the role of puppets or potted plants.
Get rid of the “love it or lump it” approach by superintendents making decisions without asking the green light or even informing the board — decisions such as introducing the 3-2-1 grading system in the lower grades without a vote by the board and changing the Iowa Test of Basic Skills from eighth to seventh grade without a word of discussion by the board.
Get rid of the habit of the central office hiding information — such as a district website poll showing overwhelming opposition to the 3-2-1 grading change that was kept from the public by the superintendent for six months. Ditto for the old habit of some school board members shading or hiding the truth and launching personal attacks on other members.
The new culture has to be one in which the superintendent works for the school board, not vice versa. Dr. Hinojosa apparently agrees, saying he believes “the board sets the ‘what’ and the administration figures out the ‘how.’”
Here’s hoping the new super can figure out how to transform old bad habits into a new, transparent and vibrant culture to make sure, as he said, that all the students in Cobb public schools can be successful.