My friend Trish Crain, education writer for AL.com, did a very interesting article about state superintendent Mike Sentance recently. If you’ve not read it, I encourage you to because you will come away with insight as to who Sentance really is. And who he is not.
By his own admission he is not a communicator, something that he has demonstrated over and over and over. I can cite numerous examples of superintendents being unable to get in touch with him, of him ignoring emails and phone calls from educators, of him speaking to education groups and not bothering to shake hands or exchange greetings.
Since he is now of the age when most people retire, it is unreasonable to expect this inability to communicate with people is likely to change. This is a huge flaw, perhaps especially in the South where people are prone to be hospitable and out going. It is hard to imagine the president of a bank, a university, the pastor of a church, a football coach, the superintendent of a local school system who lacks communication skills.
But to me, the most insightful of all the statements in this article is the very last sentence where the superintendent is quoted: “I’m not confident in a whole lot. The fact that I wake up in the morning is a small surprise, and then I start from there.”
Here is someone in charge of a statewide school system with 730,000 students and a multi-billion dollar budget and he is “not confident in a whole lot.”
How many wars would this country have won if our generals told their troops they were not confident in their battle plan? How many school superintendents would hire a new high school football coach who said he was not confident he could win any games? What would you think about the heart surgeon telling you before the operation that he is not confident what he is going to do will work? Would you turn over your life savings to a financial advisor who said they were not confident they could grow your nest egg?
Rep. Bill Poole chairs the House Ways & Means Education committee. Senator Arthur Orr chairs the Senate Finance & Taxation Education committee. They are good guys and good friends and have a huge job developing budgets to fund education. They are supposed to take someone seriously who says he is not confident the plans he proposes will work?
Houston. We have a problem. A big, big problem.
In the interview, Sentance tried to gloss over the fact he has never worked at the classroom or school level in education by saying he is very passionate about improving Alabama education. While that is well, fine and good, it is hardly an adequate substitute for practical experience. It is a mighty long way from a big office on he fifth floor of the Gordon Persons Building in downtown Montgomery to the classroom on Anne Monroe at Bryant Junior High in Jackson County. And a strategic plan sprinkled with pretty words means little to a science teacher like Anne who scrambles to come up with the most basic supplies to teach a class of high poverty students.
And if Mike Sentance wants to see passion, he needs to spend time in some Alabama classrooms. Who knows, he might even find some people who are confident they can make the lives of their students better.