One Very Frustrated Local Superintendent

Below is a letter a local school superintendent sent this week to all members of the state board of education.  Their frustration with Montgomery is almost palpable.  They gave permission to use this.

They are not alone.  Educators all over Alabama are extremely frustrated at the lack of leadership at the state department of education and the inability to get answers to questions.  As pointed out below, this is negatively impacting the capacity of local school systems to do their jobs.

In the last few days we have seen a rash of articles by non-educators defending Mike Sentance.  Unfortunately these folks are clueless as to what is the reality of a school system today.  Their braying makes no more sense than me writing about how to run a hospital.

“Good evening state board members.  I have been keeping a log of concerns and believe it is time I share them with you.  I hope you will take time to read these concerns as you continue to try to do what is best for the students of Alabama – not the adults. 

1. Assessments – As we get ready to open another school year, we have absolutely no framework for the 2017-2018 assessment system.  We know what we will be giving, but that is all.  If we can’t begin using Scantron until September 1, and most schools start administering their first screeners in early August, that means we will not have any readiness data on students until mid-September. 

I am NOT over testing our students, so I will not give a separate screener in August and then again in September. We normally have our first screener done by mid-August so that we know how to adjust instruction accordingly.  We still know very little about how the two scores will be compiled for one overall score.

We don’t know if the testing environment must be the same as it was when we gave the ACT Aspire. Will we have to shut the building down?  Lock up everything, etc.? If it is, then with the computer adaptive system some kids will finish in 15 minutes and some will take three hours (like my daughter did because it kept going higher). So, will all of the others in her classroom have to sit for three hours so she can finish 1 section of Scantron?  Can they read a book? Can they look on other sites when they are finished, etc.?  Those are  questions we prepare our teachers and students for in early spring.

However, you are asking us to make this quick change for one year and begin on Sept. 1 but we have no framework or answers. Not to mention we are having to wait until mid-September for results.  You will probably say – just give them an earlier screener.  However, as a mother and the person responsible for this system I refuse to test these students twice in one month because of an edict from Montgomery..  The Scantron we are giving is computer adaptive and can’t be a paper/pencil test.  So, every school in the state is fully equipped with the infrastructure and devices to do this September 1? 

We aren’t, but we may be the only system in that situation.  We will make it work because that is what we have been told to do, but it will take several weeks to do this. I sat down with my testing coordinator, and we spent two hours drafting a framework for our system because we haven’t gotten anything like this from Montgomery.. We plan to share it with our administrators this week because they are trying to get ready for the school year. However, we still don’t have answers regarding testing environment, do’s and don’ts, what is allowed and what is prohibited when the testing is taking place, etc.  

Also, have you thought about the fact that our high school accountability portion comes from a “college entrance exam?”  If we know all students will not go to college, then why would we want that assessment to be our sole accountability component?  You have said multiple times that the ACT Aspire didn’t align to the standards, however, do you think the ACT aligns directly to the standards?  It is a college entrance exam!!!  

2.  Instructional Audits – I understand that the reason we paid $536,000 in the Montgomery intervention is because it provided audits with OFSTED.  It is also my understanding that when that training was provided, the state staff was told this could not be replicated in the US because OFSTED is only done in England.  In my three years in medium-sized city, we received several ALSDE instructional audits and reports and the results shown for Montgomery don’t look much different than what we got for free.  Additionally, we were given top priority for PD, etc. based on the instructional audit findings. Was this a good use of $536,000?  My system could certainly use that money but apparently our students are not as important as those in Montgomery.

3.  Communication – I get very frustrated at the lack of communication directly from Mr. Sentance.  I do not send emails daily or even weekly. I understand he is a very busy person.  However, I have sent three or four directly to him and he is yet to reply.  That is why I finally had to publicly ask him my question and voice my concerns at the Alabama Ascending tour in Dothan.  If that is the only way he will reply to me, then I have no choice.  Not replying to my community is not an option, and if I were to do that to my stakeholders here I wouldn’t be around long.  

Betty Peters is my state board member and that I probably should be going through her before contacting all of you.  However, I can not get in touch with her.either by phone or email. The only time I have gotten any personal communication via phone or email from her was when she called with a very scripted response regarding the graduation rate issue.

You not only have our state’s education future in your hands, but you also have the future of my second and fourth grade children. Frankly the outlook is scary for them right now based on this past year.  This is my 20th year of education, with the last 17 in administration. I have never been through such a tumultuous year as the last one with a lack of state leadership and support.

So not only am I voicing concerns as a superintendent who goes to work everyday to support our administrators, teachers and students, I am voicing concerns as a parent!  

I know there are political pressures and other agendas, but please consider what our local schools are going through. My people work hard everyday and when they come to me for answers about “What is next?” all I can say is, “I am not sure. I can’t even get the state superintendent to respond to my email.”  

Thank you for your time.  I am just one person, but I will continue to fight hard, not just for what I believe in, but more importantly for the 2,600 students that walk through our doors every day.  The don’t deserve the political issues and agendas and lack of understanding of what really goes on in the day-to-day world of our schools. 

I will be glad to talk to any of you if you have questions or need clarification.  I have held out for several months now, but I truly couldn’t go another day and not at least voice my concerns after watching your most recent board meeting.”

Too many don’t seem to realize that a school is like a giant clock with all the pieces needing to work properly for it to tell the correct time.  Remove one of the pieces and everything stops.  Decisions made at 20,000 feet (whether the one making the decision realizes it or not) really do have consequences.

This letter graphically illustrates this point.  Just as it graphically makes a case for change at the top, the sooner, the better.

2 Responses to One Very Frustrated Local Superintendent

  1. Simple question: Does the ALSDE and ALBOE work for the citizens and schools or vice versa? Must be vice versa.

  2. It’s not just Mr. Sentance who doesn’t respond. Try getting almost anyone at the SDE to reply to your email! This has been the case for years. Many of the employees need a lesson in customer service. If I were as rude and unresponsive as many of them I’d be fired. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. I don’t care how busy or important you think you are.

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