It has now been 12 months since the beginning of the current Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) spectacle started. June 7, 2016 was the deadline for applicants for state superintendents. How did we know it would be straight downhill from there?
No doubt the total dysfunction of “leadership” reached its zenith at the June 21 board meeting. It would have been appropriate to play this music as the room filled.
This was the meeting where ALSDE staff attorney Michael Meyer presented his report to the board concerning actions of five people last summer to discredit state superintendent candidate Craig Pouncey. And though superintendent Mike Sentance called Meyer at home on a January Saturday and asked him to do the investigation, Sentance disagreed with the report’s findings and even had a former state supreme court judge there to also refute Meyer.
This is the meeting where ALSDE legal counsel Juliana Dean abruptly offered editorial comment from the audience and was not censured by Sentance.
Ir was all little more than a sideshow. Some called it “bizarre.” For a first-hand look at media response, clink this link and then scroll down and watch the video.
And this shameful display is what we consider “governance” of the 730,000 public school students in Alabama?
Let’s look back at some of the things that brought us to this point.
There were 12 applicants for state superintendent. Two of them withdrew after the deadline. One was Mike Sentance, an applicant who clearly did not meet the requirements the state board was looking for in a new superintendent, the other was Steve Paine of West Virginia who easily met the requirements.
So what happened? ALSDE legal counsel Dean called Sentance and asked him to re-consider, indicating that she was calling on behalf of the board. This was untrue as the board knew nothing of this call. However, she did not call Paine and ask him to re-consider. This is like two of Nick Saban’s players tell him they are quitting the team. One is the starting quarterback, the other is a fourth team walk on. Yet Saban pleads with the walk on to stay and never says a word to the quarterback.
Like so much that has happened in the last year, it makes no sense.
So after withdrawing in writing to Dean, Sentance is allowed to re-submit his application weeks after the June 7 deadline.
Which brings us to July 12, 2016 and the infamous “smear” sheet distributed to board members anonymously masquerading as a complaint to the Ethics Commission. Though six board members told a legislative committee that they paid no attention to the info because they did not know where it came from, Mary Scott Hunter has stated repeatedly that she was very troubled by the charges and seems to imply that somehow her admiration and regard for Pouncey lead her to make sure the Ethics Commission got the compliant.
However, the fact that Hunter did not tab Pouncey to be interviewed for superintendent and voted for four others, but not him, undercuts her effort to convince us she was acting in Pouncey’s best interests. The fact that she also told legislators at a Business Council of Alabama meeting that Pouncey had ethics problems, when in fact he had none, also weakens her words.
Though I have been unable to find a single educator who recommended Sentance to a board member to be hired, that is who five members voted for on Aug. 11, 2016.
This action stunned the education community from Bridgeport to Bayou La Batre. They felt betrayed that someone from Massachusetts with no formal training as an educator was being forced on them.
Governor Bentley defended his vote by trying to make us believe that since Massachusetts had the nation’s highest 4th grade math scores, Sentance would lead us to the same promised land. This was illogical. Harvard has the world’s largest education endowment of more than $38 billion. The University of Alabama has an endowment of about $1.2 billion. It would have made as much sense for Bentley to say that his alma mater would soon have a larger endowment than Harvard.
(But then we have since learned that Governor Bentley was living in a fantasy world so making irrational statements was just par for the course.)
Sentance took the reins of ALSDE in mid-September and it didn’t take him long to prove those who doubted his qualifications to be proven correct.
Rather than communicating with his board, he aligned himself with the governor and Rep. Terri Collins, chair of the education policy committee in the house. The same Terri Collins who has been engaged in a constant effort to harm public schools with A-F schools grades, her support of charter schools and vouchers and the same Terri Collins who could not get her pet projects through the last legislation session.
He has been quick to tout any “bad” news, real or perceived, about Alabama schools. But silent when it is time to stand up for teachers and students. Remember last fall when he told the board about the Federal investigation of graduation rates and implied that the sky was falling? Headlines around the state screamed about our grad rate scandal and impending doom..
So a few weeks ago we get the news from the Feds and there is no scandal. No mass cheating and inflation of graduation rates. There was only the matter of former state superintendent telling local systems that special needs students who completed the course work they were assigned should be counted as graduates. The folks in Washington disagreed.
So we will make this change. But Alabama never hid what it was doing and local systems reported what they were told to report.
But where was our new superintendent? Silent as usual.
Just as he was when Governor Bentley declared last November that education in Alabama “sucks.” Did Sentance stand up for our schools? Did he differ with the person who cast the fifth vote the day he was hired?
Or what about last January when the Feds told him they didn’t believe ACT Aspire was the right test for Alabama to use. And a few days later we have the annual release of the list of “failing schools” as required by the Alabama Accountability Act. For the first time ever, a number of high schools that are only grades 9 through 12 made the list. Why, because their 10th graders did not do well on ACT Aspire.
But did Mike Sentance come to their aid? Are you kidding me? Why not just let the media have a field day about their local “failing” high schools instead of telling the world these schools were judged with a mis-aligned test?
Sentance has been quick to tell us how bad our teachers are, that we have math teachers who could not be hired in another state, that our colleges of education are terrible. Then he wonders why we don’t attract better students to become teachers. Why would anyone want to work for him?
I could go on and on. Like his decision to give a 10% raise to the principals of the 27 weakest schools in Montgomery. Like his $750,000 no-bid contract for a CFO for Montgomery. Like his $500,000+ contract for a consulting firm in Massachusetts he was once involved with.
About how the work environment at the state department today is toxic, how people are scared for their jobs, about how people are tqking jobs for less pay to get out of the Gordon Persons buiding.
But honest, I’m tired of writing and you are tired of reading.
Besides, it distresses me too much knowing that the 730,000 students in our schools are only hearing the music from the circus and that in too many ways, they are forgotten in all of this sordid mess.