I was distressed this morning to hear that the Birmingham School Board hastily called together a 5 p.m. meeting today – a religious holiday for most people – to discuss the contract of Superintendent Craig Witherspoon.
All the people who are reportedly not Dr. Witherspoon fans will be there. But several of his supporters, who had already planned to be out of town because of the holiday, won’t be there to have a say in what happens at this meeting.
For a while now, I have heard rumblings about plans to get rid of the superintendent, and it’s my fault for not taking enough time to learn exactly what problem(s) the grumblers were having with him.
I can say that, when I asked briefly asked several school board members to explain their concerns about Dr. Witherspoon, the hurried responses were something like, “He doesn’t communicate with the board . . . He’s not telling us what he’s doing . . . He thinks he can do what he wants to do without our knowledge,” or something along those lines.
They encouraged me to get back to them, but I didn’t. So I’m afraid I can’t say with any clarity what may be going on behind closed doors. And I really want to be fair.
However, as I think back on the grumblers’ comments, what strikes me most is what they DIDN’T say.
They didn’t say, “Our children are not making adequate academic progress under his leadership,” or “Parents don’t like the direction our schools are headed, and they are concerned about the quality of their children’s education.” I didn’t hear them say, “Dr. Witherspoon is not interested in making the kinds of improvements in our best teachers so they can help increase test scores and decrease dropout rates in our schools.” Nor did they tell me, “He’s not doing enough to model more of our schools after the academically successful ones, the good schools that ‘the media’ overlook, like Glen Iris Elementary, Princeton Elementary, Wilkerson Middle School or Ramsay High.”
In short, none of the complaints were about the schools, the children or the teachers getting a short shrift under Witherspoon’s leadership. It was about THEM, about THEIR not getting the “respect” THEY think THEY deserve as school board members from someone who essentially works for THEM.
And the board members are right. Superintendent Witherspoon does work for them. But THEY work for US. WE elected THEM to represent US and the educational interest of OUR CHILDREN. And I’m not so sure that “doing what’s best for our children” is driving this meeting today about the superintendent.
Now, as a disclaimer, I don’t have child or chick, as my Granny would say. But every child’s education is important to every one of us.
It’s important to employers who need well-educated, disciplined people who are ready to work. And people with jobs are less likely to commit crimes because they’re making good money (and there is good money to be made doing “dirty jobs” like welding and pipe fitting, jobs that can’t be exported overseas). It’s important to our democracy to have voters who can make intelligent choices at the polls (please, God!). It’s important to have educated people who are creative enough to make new inventions or design better ways of doing something that creates jobs and saves money (real “job creators” are small business owners, not “too-big-to-fail” corporations, thank you!). It’s important to us because we need well-trained people to take care of us in hospitals and our elderly relatives at nursing homes (and in 30 years or so, some of us will be at these homes needing our diapers changed!).
A mind is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste, as the United Negro College Fund tells us every chance it gets. But I fear too many of our kids’ minds are wasted in schools these days. Children today, I believe, are way smarter than we give them credit for. Learning styles adapted from yesteryear’s Industrial Age bores the bejeezus out of kids in today’s Information Age; they don’t see the relevance and are tuning out. But they are not as wise as they think they are, and they’re not as disciplined as previous generations. This is where reformed education, and supportive but tough love from “the Village,” can play their parts.
But it seems to me that some educational leaders do not want the Village’s input. They don’t care about the stability that our children need at this crucial juncture, where Dr. Witherspoon has made changes in schools that could actually improve our children’s education.
It seems that some leaders, who have called this meeting during this holiday season, are willing to cripple our school system – and therefore our future generations of citizens – because the superintendent doesn’t kiss their rings the way they want him to. This kind of foolishness and instability are the last things we need at a time when public schools are facing challenges from questionable charter school legislation, funding shortages and forces working for their own self-interests rather than the interests of educating our children.
If you are in town today and you care about this issue, please take time to come out to a 4 p.m. press conference at Linn Park by a group of concerned citizens and business leaders (see the press release here), and attend the school board meeting today at 5 p.m.
Let your unbiased, un-bought voice be heard, for the sake of our children, their education, and their future – and ours.