Walt Alston. Remember the name – I’ll get back to it in a few minutes.

In response to the “red cup” video, the district partnered with Orange County Human Relations (OCHR) to develop a “task force” (TF) to “make recommendations to the board.”

What is clear after three meetings is that the task is vague and there is no force behind this effort.

Let’s be clear about one thing: The folks at OCHR are about the nicest bunch of people you’ll ever meet. Good people who are sincere in their effort to make the world a better place. That is an honest sentiment.

But OCHR is not equipped to manage a group of 50 people who have no specific goal, no deadline, and no structure other than they are a group of 50 people. There is insufficient community outreach with updates and ongoing input, and no sense that anyone knows what is happening next.

Earlier today, I sent OCHR three recommendations, all of which are meant to inject a sense of urgency in the proceedings and streamline the process. One of those recommendations was to form a subcommittee of five people to research and report the best practices of other districts that have been faced with the same challenge. This is standard operating procedure for many of us – a process that saves tremendous time and resources.

The TF is just too big. That is a result from the decision to allow membership to anyone who filled out an application. 50 is way too big. Should have been 15, tops. Maybe nine. Maybe anything other than four dozen.

So why is this XXL committee moving at a snail’s pace in response to what is arguably the most important issue ever faced by the district? Why is there no deadline for making recommendations? Why is there a distinct lack of focus and leadership?

The answer is that once again, the superintendent has delegated responsibility instead of taking a leadership position. He was absent during the Gold Ribbon fiasco, the rats on campuses, the Swun Math mess, and all of the many other goofs that have occurred on his watch.

It’s a safe strategy: Let someone else handle the hot potato so you don’t have to be held accountable.

But safe is not what we need in a superintendent. We need someone with courage. We need someone who understands that his or her actions set the tone for everyone else in the district. We need a superintendent who accepts unconditional, 100% responsibility for everything that goes wrong in the district.

In other words, we need a superintendent other than the one we’ve got.

Unfortunately, that change won’t happen anytime soon. Soon enough, the trustees will go through the motions of granting a one-year extension of the super’s contract. This has been standard operating procedure since I first got involved in district affairs 20 years ago. The only year that I can recall being an exception was the year the school board did not grant an extension to Jeff Hubbard. That year, he was on trial in Los Angeles.

About Walt Alston… Baseball fans may recall that he was the manager of the Dodgers for 23 seasons, starting in 1953. During that time, he had one of the most successful managerial careers in baseball history:  Seven National League pennants and four World Series championships. And even when his teams didn’t win a pennant or a championship, they were always in the hunt.

Alston had 2,000 career wins and managed NL All-Star teams to seven victories. He was selected as Manager of the Year six times and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Here’s what former Dodger announcer Vin Scully said of Alson: “I always imagined him to be the type who could ride shotgun on a stage through Indian territory. He was all man and two yards tall. He was very quiet, very controlled. He never made excuses. He gave the players the credit and he took the blame.”

Alston accomplished so much in his career, in part, because of the strategy of Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley, who never gave Alston a contract lasting more than one year.

Having that Sword of Damocles – in the form of a short contract – over one’s head can do amazing things. It transforms people, either by motivating them to excel or by scaring them to failure. Unfortunately, students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers will never know whether the superintendent’s office is occupied by an Alston or a Damocles, who begged King Dionysius to allow him out from under the sword.

This year, the trustees should not vote to extend the contract. It’s not just a matter of trying to light a fire under someone to boost performance, it’s more that he just hasn’t earned it.

Steve Smith

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