Laura Armstrong: What's causing crisis of confidence with school board?
by Laura Armstrong
December 13, 2009 01:00 AM | 1197 views | 6 6 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was a dark and stormy night.

The Cobb County School Board was in session, or at least that's what Channel 24 on my kitchen television said last Thursday, Dec 10.

My habit is to watch the live broadcast while cleaning ... one can scrub a lot of grease, polish cabinets and re-organize the Tupperware, all while listening to the droning business at hand.

Here's a hint for homemakers: When the board is in primo form, it's time to mop. Maybe the broadcast emits some sort of negatively charged ions when these officials get going, but that mop goes faster the more they talk ... the more Cash reminds everyone she's the most experienced and that her post has the most underprivileged children, the more Crooks (in the midst of being recalled) tsk-tsks in that well-rehearsed voice, calling out a colleague on something like integrity. And Abraham, earnestly offering, yet again, that "this time" they learned something and "next time" they'll do better.

The more they talk, the cleaner my floors, and I question how our children get educated, despite all this drama at the top.

And the group therapy, oy vay! Have you noticed how they repeatedly, month after month, prod and probe their fellow officials, either posturing or scolding or attempting to one-up?

"Tellll me," they so often inquire of each other, sounding remarkably like Alfred Hitchcock in a cameo appearance, "Whaaat have you learrrrnnnned from this experience?"

But I'm digressing. Sorry.

On this night, last Thursday, if you peeked in my kitchen window, you'd have seen no work being done. For I stood there, two feet from my cheap, old Emerson 20-inch, mouth wide open, stunned at the unfolding drama.

Public comments were just the warmup. Principals - hundreds, it seemed -were poised attractively in the audience, some I've known for years. Almost all were there to give their bosses eloquent, heartfelt early Christmas presents - alternately lauding Glover Street for its support and superlative-ness (alright, mighty fine, who wouldn't publicly compliment the hand that feeds them?) and bashing a single board member and the "local news media."

I do admire and respect every one of these principals as professionals, as women of achievement and as educators, but was disheartened, to say the least, with their misguided anger at "local media," which shows they're either unable to understand our job or they're unwilling to face the truth of the misconduct too often reported to their real bosses - the taxpayers of Cobb County.

Ladies, I believe I'll take a chance and speak for the MDJ when I assure you stories on issues such as violations of Georgia laws (like the open meetings law), questionable expenditures of taxpayer money or the inability of your fine teachers to get copy paper or other support because of mismanagement at the top, are all written in defense of your noble profession. We are not attacking you, so why do you attack the messenger?

And how, I wonder, did you all have the same talking points?

Which leads us to the meat of the meeting. (I'm thinking meat because it was nothing but a slaughter).

First, every parent and taxpayer in this county should log onto and watch the conduct of our elected officials for themselves.

December's board meeting was a non-productive spectacle. Was this how the Salem Witch Trials looked?

First, the principals. We respect them, therefore the object of their ire must be deserving, right?

So then, why did longtime education supporters and board watchers flip out at what they observed? Why was I frozen before my TV?

Because, whatever the meeting was meant to be, it turned into a public flogging of a duly elected board member by her own colleagues.

Alison Bartlett cast one of two no votes on the August 2nd school start date, which is what Glover Street has been seeking for years (based on documents acquired through FOI by Georgians Need Summers back in spring, 2004).

But before the vote in November, Bartlett had questioned the CCSD poll showing more teachers wanted the early start. She wondered at the integrity of the not secret process and the results.

Bartlett said she'd been contacted by teachers who felt pressured to vote for the early start. But other board members didn't seem too concerned, voting anyway and elevating the poll as Reason #1 for the early start. Abraham and Banks even reversed campaign promises based on the poll, so you'd think they'd be concerned, but that was not the case.

After they got the August 2nd start, however, they approached Bartlett for names.

She refused, citing privacy concerns. Of course whistleblowers seek to be protected.

Then an investigation of the poll was called for and the rest can be characterized in a number of different ways.

Was the investigation a witch-hunt, with Glover Street staff seeking to uncover the whistle blowing teachers? It wouldn't be the first time, from what I hear.

Was it truly a board member, a longtime educator herself, singling out specific principals just so their integrity could be questioned? That's what was alleged Thursday, in a massive principal pile-on.

Or could it be that Bartlett, who asks lots of questions and has shown she won't be manipulated, was intentionally marginalized in an orchestrated controversy? Who stirred up all those principals, and why?

In any case, the lynch-mob-like atmosphere in that super-heated room, complete with its audience of well-coifed "victims" and board member meltdowns - you could feel the hate folks, truly - was so sad.

What this board doesn't realize and what I don't mind saying is that their power is derived from their official position, not from the strength of their personalities.

Citizens don't elect them to swat flies or conduct witch hunts. We want them overseeing management of our schools and taking on the big problems.

If we wanted all the drama, we'd elect our own daughters to run things.

I hope you'll watch this meeting. And I hope board members will watch themselves as well. They probably won't recognize themselves.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
December 16, 2009
I for one lost sleep after watching this meeting. I just can't even sum up in words what I felt at watching this ugly display of power and insecurity. Let's discuss this power. To the school board members you are just board members. You are such an insignificant spec of dust on the Cobb County map I don't understand how your egos can be that big. If you left tomorrow no one would miss you. Do you realize that? What really matters is that we keep the good teachers of this county happy so that they can continue to educate our children. I can't help but wonder if the school board members were teachers and had to work under a school board like them, would they still teach? The Colonel had the class to resign so that the school district would not be hurt. I think all but Bartlett and Morgan should do the same!
Cobb Teacher
December 14, 2009
Actually the Teacher unions in Cobb represent a very small fraction of the instructional staff at any given school. In fact some schools have no local Rep on their staff or just a handful of members. Finally, one of the groups tends to only have members that are part of the administration. So using these groups is not a very legitimate source of information
December 13, 2009
Where was the policeman to haul out the board mebers that flogged Bartlet like Abraham had the lady hauled out of the meeting awhile back. She was not even close to being as hostile as the board members were towards Bartlet. Abraham, Crooks,Crowder-Eagle, Banks and Cash are a shameful excuse for representing educators. Bartlet and Morgan are the only ones on the board who seem to be committed to serving their constituants and the truth.
Appalled at Board
December 13, 2009
Why didn't Brock call over the security officer to escort Ms. Cash from the room? And they considered Vivian Jackson to be out of order? Wow, talk about a double standard.
Big D
December 13, 2009
Ms Armstrong, you omitted the key point found in the investigation! Evidently, there are two union-like organizations that teachers have in Cobb. They receive emails daily about teachers' concerns. Yet, in this case, they didn't receive a SINGLE contact from any of those anonymous teachers about the alleged coercion. By contacting their rep, they could've remained anonymous in their complaint. This kind of omission is why so many of us consider MDJ reporting to be antagonistic rather than simply aggressively going after the truth. THAT's a shame.
Reba M
December 13, 2009
My mouth dropped open too. I wonder if those principal's knew what was going on before hand? I'm sure a few were ashamed afterward. And maybe privately apologized to Alison Bartlett. But as we all know, they had to be there or they chanced being flogged in the middle of the street.

I hope more principals understand just how they were used and manipulated and have at least one sleepless night!

Why isn't the board room a "No Bully Zone"? I for one was disgusted by the hate in that room. And to think these people run our schools - oh my!
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