School board club member Vicki Snell’s anti-term limits commentary in the Daily Pilot is a good example of the failed leadership from which taxpayers have been suffering from for a very long time.

To Snell and her school board club colleagues, the growing push for term limits is simply another brush fire that needs to be put out. Same with area voting, same with Swun Math, same with the Mariners Gold Ribbon application, same with all of the many other problems that the district has been facing over the past few years.

The school board club members have an inability to look at this string of scandals, bad management, and missteps as part of a larger, endemic problem. These incidents are just individual hurdles to be overcome while they wait for the next one to come along. For most of us, connecting the dots is a relatively simple exercise that can result in a focus on the problem instead of the symptoms. The incidents mentioned in the previous paragraph are not really problems, they are symptoms. The problem is a rudderless administration and school board club.

Despite the gravity of the Mariners Gold Ribbon application, the one issue that best illustrates this lack of insight and this incredibly poor leadership is Swun Math. Teacher and parent complaints have been coming for a long time, as evidenced by this LA Times article from February, 2015: http://www.latimes.com/tn-dpt-me-0227-swun-math-20150226-story.html

The story describes numerous errors in the program and the attempts to fix them. How? The Times article notes:

“Paying teachers like Woolfolk to make the corrections will cost the district an estimated $3,300 this trimester, Suhr said. The teachers are doing this work outside of their regular teaching schedule.

“District officials said in an email that Swun Math has reimbursed the district $16,000 for materials that needed to be reprinted.”

So the district bought an inaccurate program, but instead of realizing early on that these inaccuracies may be part of a larger problem, they put a Band-Aid on it and hoped for the best.

That hope has not materialized. We are still hearing complaints about Swun Math from parents and teachers, one of whom described the problems she is having today as the same ones she found when the program was adopted.

Swun Math has dots to connect. It was used by N-MUSD Superintendent Frederick Navarro in the Lennox School District when he was the super there. (BTW, in a past post, I reported the mediocre test results for the district while he was the super there and wondered just what it was that caused former super Rob Barbot to recommend him. To see the scores, use the search function at the top.) Swun Math is not well-liked by teachers and parents have struggled with it. And there is a telling quote in the Times story by Susan Astarita, the district’s former [insert bureaucratic title here], who said, “It’s troublesome to teachers, I get that. We’re doing everything we can to correct it.” That was 17 months ago.

String these together and we begin to understand that perhaps there is more to keeping Swun Math than meets the eye.

The superintendent should have pulled the plug on Swun Math a long time ago. But sometimes our egos get in the way and it’s hard to let go of a program we have championed because it makes us look bad. Forget about, as Snell wrote in her commentary, the best interest of all children, the superintendent seems to be determined to keep banging this square peg into a round hole.

What I would do: Use Astarita’s retirement to make a clean break of Swun Math. This strategy would abide by the old axiom, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

There are three candidates for election to the school board club this fall and I’m guessing they’d be delighted to provide the shovel.

Steve Smith

 

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