Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Facing the Music

Monday evening Superintendent Foose took to the podium at the Centennial High School Winter Concert to conduct Leroy Anderson's well-known seasonal favorite "Sleigh Ride". Inviting a person of note (sorry) in the community to conduct a musical ensemble has become a more or less acceptable way to connect people in power with supporting the arts.

And this is how it works: everyone in the ensemble rehearses like mad beforehand. Everyone knows their parts, and exactly how it's all going to go. And above all, everything is structured to make the conductor look good. Then, when the guest raises the baton, it all looks amazingly easy.

Pretty cool, huh?

Those of us in the community who follow the County Schools have become familiar with a similar approach in recent years. Rather than step up to the podium, say a few words and answer questions, the Superintendent brings an entire team of people to give presentations. Often they are accompanied by impressive videos, slide-shows, or power points with eye-popping graphics.

Somehow there's just never enough time for the asking and answering of questions.

Today there was supposed to be a meeting between the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and the Howard County Delegation, who had requested such a meeting because the last one they had was all presentations and no opportunity for questions. In fact, the request for his meeting predates the hearing on proposed legislation and the Town Hall meeting on education. It's been on the books for quite awhile, and the delegation has been waiting patiently for a chance to have some straight talk about issues of concern.

Yesterday the meeting was canceled by the school system, citing illness.

Indeed it must be terrible illness if one knows that everyone is going to be ill twenty four hours or more in advance. I hope they will soon be on the mend.

Strangely enough, around the same time that I learned that the meeting was canceled, the Superintendent published an Open Letter to the Howard County Delegation on the hcpss website.

Two things:

  • It is a completely inadequate response to issues raised by both the Howard County Delegation through proposed legislation, and at the Town Hall Meeting.
  • It is, to my mind, a clearly disrespectful response to both local government officials and the community at large.

As far as the content is concerned, the letter seems to suggest that tweaking the school system website will resolve everything. When you have stakeholders crying out for responsiveness, transparency, and accountability, they are not asking you to change a website. This is like responding to impoverished people who are are starving and crying out for food, "We have made some changes to our supermarkets that will streamline your shopping experience." So--no. Just, no.

But the bigger issue to me is getting right up to a meeting with real human beings who, in fact, have authority over what the school system does, and backing out. Hunkering down. Writing a letter. Phoning it in.

A sign of true leadership, from both the Superintendent and the Board of Education, would be to deal with the situation at hand, no matter how awkward. Because what they do is public service, and sitting down with the delegation is a part of that job. And even if it were not public service, common sense tells you that, when facing a difficult situation at work, you don't get to stay home and avoid it by writing a letter instead.

True leadership is not just taking the podium and waving a stick around. Sometimes you really have to face the music.


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