Mt. Vernon Register-News

August 6, 2013

Local issue visited

The Register-News

---- — Let me start this column by stating that I do not profess to be an expert in leadership and organizational behavior. I do profess to having learned a lot in these areas and have the scars of many mistakes to show for it.

Over 40 years in one of the most brutally competitive oligopoly’s in the world and you receive some knowledge by osmosis. I just never understood the way entities work that get their money through fees and taxes or a more simple way of saying it; by spending other people’s money. I am going to stay local for this column and use a current issue in an attempt to convey a message.

I am talking about the controversy about cost and design of the new high school. You have to give the Past Presidents Council and present Chamber members kudos for bringing this issue to the public and their attempt to represent the will of the people.

I do not want to even discuss the concept of a new school. Everyone had their chance to discuss that subject prior to the vote. The majority voted for it and that should be the end of that conversation. What is appropriate is to challenge what the people voted for and what is surfacing now in terms of cost and design.

When you have board members resigning over reportedly ethical and transparency issues; somebody needs to wake up. When you hear that knowledge was available that the cost was going to be much higher than the voters were told; somebody should wake up.

I attended the presentation by the financial advisor and architect of record at the request of a Past Presidents Council of the Chamber. A lot of questions from knowledgeable folks were raised. The true answers will only be known when the bids are finalized and ready for review. I think the school board would be wise to keep it inside the boundaries of what they sold to the taxpayers; find a way to keep the total at $62 million and $19.8 million local share the folks voted on. We shall see.

When everybody starts agreeing you never get the best solutions. We used to call this the “yeah boss syndrome,” a fast way for the boss to lose their position or job. Although there is almost never an ideal situation; the best boards, management teams and organizations are the ones that function in an open,challenging, trusting atmosphere.

You cannot reach the best decisions without openness and challenge and you cannot have constructive challenge without trust. You should be very worried when everyone starts agreeing because that is when poor decisions get made. “Sailing with the wind” or “going along to get along” will not help in finding the best solutions. This does not mean that decisions should not be supported after the complete airing of various and opposite viewpoints. Certainly they should!

The issue I find most troubling personally is I never hear explanations for the lack of academic achievement and lack of improvement in test scores of 11th graders as measured by the Prairie State Achievement Test and plans for improvement. I think student achievement should trump curved or straight walls design. I think student achievement should be one of the major deciding factors in performance measurement for administration.

I know that I will get a lot of flak from colleagues about not understanding education and they probably have some validity, but shouldn’t the most important consideration be the quality of education the students receive? There is a web-site, SchoolDigger, that tracks and ranks schools in reading, math, science, etc. It tracks individual schools and compares against other schools and state averages.

It did not all happen on the current board and administration’s watch, but ranking 411 out of 669 in 2012 measuring high schools as reported by SchoolDigger is not something to be proud of. Dropping from 58.6 percent in 2003 to 45.8 percent in 2012 in reading as measured by the PSAT is not progress; or math at 44.5 percent in 2003 to 44.6 percent in 2012 and science 50.3 percent in 2003 to 43.1 percent in 2012 with state averages considerably higher is something to be concerned about.

I suggest that a tighter focus on improving measured student achievement with accountability and less on curved halls and other esthetic features would be a good thing. Frankly, I just do not understand why improving student achievement is not at the top of the list and please do not give me the age-old gobbly-gook about not believing in testing. How do you measure anything without testing?

I realize that any type of special election is very cost prohibitive, but something just does not seem right when folks resign because of reported ethical issues with the board and the remaining board members get to appoint replacements.

This is even more troublesome when you consider that it will be almost two years before taxpayers will have input on who represents them on the board. The school will be built exactly as a small minority of the board and administration wishes it to be.

I want to close with a definition of arrogance given to me many years ago. “Arrogance is the illegitimate child of confidence and pride. Arrogance is the idea that not only can you never miss {shooting} a duck, but no one else can ever hit one.”