Thursday, April 1, 2010

Innovation, marquees, budget cuts & gnat's knees

Last Tuesday, I attended the Carolina School for Inquiry Board of Directors meeting.  It had been a while since I'd been to a regular meeting... I guess the last one was when I was still chair. 

I was pleased to see the large attendance.  When I was on the board we couldn't pay people to attend until we had the unfortunate incident.  The people attending Tuesday were civil, unlike some of the folk in the mobs that attended the last couple of meetings in September.

I was excited to hear a presentation from the special ed department.  They are taking the lead on innovative ways to help special needs kids.  The federal regulations will be demanding more proactive intervention and the two special ed teachers, with the encouragement and blessing of the CSI lead teacher/director Victoria Dixon-Mokeba, have developed what looks like a wonderful plan.  They asked the teachers what would help them and the kids, studied the data, checked on the kids' needs.  They are planning to work with small groups of kids before they are labeled so that they can prevent problems from developing and take away some of the stigma associated with "special ed" labels. 

That's one of the strengths of a multi-age setting.  Kids can develop at different rates, get the extra help or extra push to go further without either being labeled a failure or being socially promoted without ever helping them develop the skills they need.  I'm proud of CSI for being innovative in this area as well as in other areas of curriculum.  This is what a charter school should be able to do.

The budget report is always interesting, but I was disappointed to see that the board members seemed to find it boring.  The CSI accountant couldn't do a better job of explaining the current and future budget needs and issues.  I know that he and other charter school experts have given this novice board remedial lessons in governance & finance as related to a charter school board, and so it concerns me that some of the ladies don't seem to want to listen. 

I was even more surprised to see what did interest them.  During the public comments, a grandparent spoke with great passion about the marquee in front of the school.  Why was it empty?  Why did other schools have things on their marquee but we don't? 

I was a little taken aback.  That's it?  I thought.  That's the biggest issue?  That's how you plan to fire the finest director/lead teacher in SC?

Victoria explained during her report that the marquee was empty because OSHA had determined that the ground was too uneven to use a ladder and our landlord's hadn't regraded the ground or purchased a telescoping wand.   That is when a couple of board members perked up.

"So we need to buy a wand?  How much does it cost?"

Sweet Millard Filmore on a bicycle.  This is the board of directors of a public charter school, not the PTA.  Did you miss it when Bill said we may not have enough money to pay full teachers salaries?  You want to buy a wand so we can have announcements on the sign in front of the school?

This reminded me of several stories Brian Carpenter tells about disfunctional boards.  It also reminded me of a personal story.  Early in my tenure as board chair, when I was still struggling to maintain order and harmony at the same time, someone in public comments asked why we didn't have a school bus of our own, instead of renting one when we needed it for trips.  In the meeting, a board member asked about the bus, and I said that the facilities committee should study the issue and report back.  This is when I lost control.  They started talking about busses and how they'd looked at them before.  I kept saying, yep, that's what the committee needs to look in to.  In the committee.  Not now...  I am ashamed to say that we discussed what color to paint the hypothetical school bus for two or three minutes (a long time in a meeting) before I managed to get it back on task.  And the committee never did recommend buying a's cheaper to rent. 

And so we see the state of affairs.  Carolina School for Inquiry is a fine public charter school.  The test scores are great, the students are happy to be learning, the director and most of the teachers know that we as parents and taxpayers and citizens appreciate the fact that they work ten times harder than average to help children learn.  There is no try, only do.  But then the board, elected in an avalanche of personal vindictiveness and anger, acts as if they are in the middle school glee club.  (I am flashing back to middle school, because I heard that a board member was chastised for speaking to me.  I can't really bring myself to care, but it does make me want to buy some clearisil.)

I really hope the board takes its lessons to heart and starts acting like a board and not a social club before the sign outside of the school says "Closed."