After the state board of education recently gave mostly failing scores in their evaluation of superintendent Mike Sentance, he responded with a two page statement at the August 10 board meeting that was largely 900 words of self-flattery about how he has tackled things that have never been done before and how he has surrounded himself with an all-star team gathered from around the country.

For instance, here is his statement about the Montgomery County school intervention he is orchestrating:

“And there is the Montgomery County intervention.  This is arguably the most comprehensive effort to improve a district in the history of the state.  There is no template here in the department for school improvement.  We are moving the issues forward through hard work, attention to research and analysis while working with smart, talented people to fix a troubled school district.  Even in these early stages, I believe that we have made progress.  And we have many more ideas that we will roll out in the next year.”

Of course, just as we are often advised to seek a second opinion when confronting an issue, it is wise to seek the opinion of real live educators when it comes to interpreting Mike Sentance’s proclamations about his grand plans.  In this case I sought comment from people who, unlike Sentance, actually spent many years in college learning to be educators and have many years of experience working in schools.

One is a principal of a highly acclaimed school in the Montgomery system who has observed the intervention first-hand.  Their observations contrast starkly to what Sentance claims.

“Maybe instead of rushing into an intervention for which there was no template, he should have slowed down and seriously evaluated ALL of our schools, as some are doing great things.  And instead of flying by the seat of his pants and the pants of all the other ‘experts’ he has hired, then maybe true turnaround could actually happen. Makes me sick to read this and also makes me sick to have to sit in a room with all of those people the state department has hired who make $100,000+ a year.”

(A recent ranking of the top 20 high schools in Alabama by ACT scores, as well as the bottom 20, shows Montgomery has three in the top-tier and two in the bottom tier.  Obviously there are educators in Montgomery who know what they are doing and one wonders why they were not first consulted before spending $536,000 on a Massachusetts consultant to evaluate schools and hiring a stable full of out-of-state administrators with six-figure salaries.)

Then we turned to a retired local superintendent with extensive experience in working in intervention efforts.  They too are sharply critical of what Sentance claims about Montgomery.

“He says Montgomery is the most comprehensive intervention effort ever taken on in the history of this state. How would he know this? Nobody who currently works at the state department has ever been involved in an intervention.

Selma was more comprehensive. Because five areas were identified for intervention: 1) Finances, 2) Human Resource issues, 3) Safety and Security of students, 4) Governance and Leadership issues, and 5) Assessment and Accountability issues.   In Montgomery, only

Finances and Academics are targeted.

The Selma intervention was precipitated by a two-year long investigation, numerous state audits and reviews, cheating on state assessments, sex between teachers and students, a female teacher pimping out her students, and board meetings that were often out of control and police escorts. MPS was precipitated by some low performing schools, and some perceived financial issues. Selma’s intervention led to arrests, the firing of the superintendent and his two top deputies, the firing and/or transfer of personnel, consolidation efforts, policy and salary reformation, restructuring, AdvancED accreditation, and squeaky clean financial audits.

What has Montgomery progress led to? Has anyone been fired? No! To the contrary, principals have all received raises and extended contracts. Instead of cutting payroll in Montgomery, it has obviously increased with all the new staff hires.

Sentence says there is no template for intervention. He is correct. That is why people involved in intervention should have experience running a school district or intervening in one. The people involved in the MPS intervention have neither.  But according to Sentence, “…we are moving the issues forward through hard work, attention to research and analysis while working with smart, talented people to fix a troubled school district.”

More Massachusetts nonsense-speak!”

Finally I sought someone who, without doubt, is one of the most respected superintendents in the state.

Here is how they summed up things right now:

“There is a vortex of craziness spinning out of control right now with no one to make any sense out of anything.  Hopefully, school systems can keep things focused on students and teaching/learning.  Also hope there will be something left of public education if this ever ends.”

There was a polite smattering of applause when Sentance finished reading his statement Thursday.  But as you can tell from the comments above, it is unlikely educators were clapping.