Last night, the members of the SSFUSD Board of Trustees failed to authorize entering into contract negotiations with a master architect without so much as giving the public a clue as to why they rejected the Superintendent’s recommendation. After the presentation by Mr. Sheikholeslami, the bond program director, there were no comments or questions from any of the members -- just the silence of a failed motion. Without approving the next step recommended by Mr. Sheikholeslami and the Cabinet, the bond project will suffer yet another significant setback on the bond timeline.
While the Board is entirely within its right to take such an action (or inaction), to do so without helping the public understand their reasoning is irresponsible. For those that have witnessed the slow -- and sometimes misguided -- pace with which the bond project has proceeded, hiring a master architect would have been a significant milestone for a public eager to see that they made a wise decision by approving the bond.
Amid flashes of light and thunderous roars (literally, not figuratively), last night also saw an interesting exchange between the Board and Assistant Superintendent Moore as she laid out her suggested plan for professional development over the next two academic years. In the end, the motion may have passed but it all happened in a way that seemed to challenge Dr. Moore’s expertise and the needs of teachers. In addition, the exchange called into question whether or not the Board has an overarching plan to effectively address the severe nature of the District’s Program Improvement (PI) status.
These were, however, just the latest in a handful of decisions to go against the recommendations of the Superintendent and his hardworking staff.
Last month’s decision to veto a postponed implementation of Transitional Kindergarten was just as confusing. Given the great deal of uncertainty at the state level, Mr. Beauchamp, Director of Curriculum and Categorical Programs and one of the few remaining administrators from the pre-Cohen era, was correct to recommend TK’s postponement. Moreover, considering that the recommendation came with the option for those affected children to attend kindergarten in 2012-13, it seemed the logical thing to do. Again, however, the Board chose to go in a different direction and against the recommendations of the very people they chose to advise them.
This is not to suggest the Superintendent and his staff are infallible; a good Board works diligently to ensure that the students of this district receive nothing short of the best, especially given the current fiscal constraints.
Still, the approach that was taken in these two instances had the effect of blindsiding the Superintendent and his staff who had worked in earnest to make the best recommendations for the District. How can staff address the problems of the District when they do not have the full confidence of the Board?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, members of the Board are entrusted by the public to provide a vision and direction for our district. When the public loses confidence in the trustees' abilities to ask the right questions and make tough decisions that might not be the most popular, how can that same public have confidence that their students will be the recipients of the best possible educational experience?