Everyone I have talked with who has a reason to know agrees that the Cobb County School System has regressed in the past 20 years and is on the verge of experiencing drastic regression. The primary reasons for the regression have been turmoil and negative actions by board members, the lack of bold and inspirational leadership by superintendents, constant controversy created by the Marietta Daily Journal and the lack of proper funding for the system.
The board needs to make it clear to citizens that their role is only to make policy and react to recommendations from the superintendent, and that a board member has no more authority than any citizen except when in an official board meeting with a majority vote.
For the school system to begin to move in a positive direction, an emphasis must be given to building morale. The actions of the board and superintendent are critical for good morale and academic progress, and you don’t get it by causing faculty and staff to fear reprimands if they speak out, or by cutting back on the school year, adding furlough days, increasing class sizes and not giving raises.
The public needs to be made aware that it is the superintendent that runs the school system, not the board. The board’s job is to employ a knowledgeable and inspirational superintendent and “turn him loose” to run the system. They should build up his image every way possible and disagreements should be handled in a low key manner behind the scenes as much as possible.
Cobb has had several board members over the years that have done this, though usually not in a majority. Staff members and faculty must know that it is the superintendent they report to, not the board. Only the superintendent reports directly to the board. School systems thrive only when led by a dynamic superintendent that the staff respects and the board defers to as much as possible. The superintendent, not board members, should be the one the newspaper goes to for quotes and information for the most part.
The biggest current concern is making political decisions and causing staff and faculty members to fear speaking out if they differ with decisions. These are what get school systems in trouble with accreditation.
There was a ridiculous comparison of school systems and military chain of command in the newspaper recently. Whereas in the military it is necessary that orders be carried out without question for safety’s sake, in a profession such as education all ideas and different thoughts should be encouraged, not criticized.
There is no way to have good morale if the board and superintendent act as parents to children — “do as I say and don’t raise questions.” In dealing with professionals such as educators, doctors, lawyers, etc. you don’t say “do it my way and don’t talk back.” The very nature of education is to always be seeking the best ideas of all.
The board of education must have as their only function to improve the school system. To do this they must stay in the background individually and look for every way possible to support the professional staff and build faculty morale. They must stay completely away from political decisions. Textbook adoptions must be an academic, not political, decision and the professional staff must be looked to provide the leadership.
To improve the school system, the board must come up with additional revenue. Some would say increasing taxes would be unpopular. Being popular is not what’s important, improving the school system is. The board and superintendent should be leading the fight to stop the state from continuing to cut back on funding public education and to get restored some of what they have taken in the past. Moving funds from the regular public schools to charter schools should be resisted at every turn.
In summary, we all need to do whatever we can to make our school system all that it can be whether or not it is popular with the few people who always complain and the newspaper.
The school board and superintendent are the only people in position to make great strides possible.
Editor’s notes: Mr. Murphy is retired principal of Wheeler High School and former Georgia “Principal of the Year.”
As for his contention that superintendents are supposed to run school systems, not the school boards, Georgia’s Constitution clearly states that: “‘Each school system shall be under the management and control of a Board of Education’” (emphasis ours).