In the accompanying video from the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA), potential candidates are given advice from MSBA Executive Director Melissa Randol, who is also a Bright Futures USA board member, and MSBA President Mona Coleman, a member of the Bolivar Board of Education.
The fundamental job of a school board member, Randol says, is "to hire a CEO with educational expertise" to act on policies set by the board. The second priority is hiring a lawyer, she adds.
Randol, who is in her first year as the head of MSBA, is dead wrong with her emphasis. The fundamental job of a school board should be to hire an educator who has the experience and qualities necessary to guide a district.
We have too many people who jump into administration after only being in the classroom for two or three years and in Joplin we have seen the dangers of that approach. While it is possible to find solid administrators with minimal classroom experience, two or three years is not enough time to develop an understanding of what is the most important aspect of a school district- the relationship between the teacher and the pupil.
The Joplin R-8 Board of Education, following this kind of guidance from MSBA and using a search process guided by MSBA, hired a superintendent, C. J. Huff, who spent a couple of years in the classroom and then moved right into a principal position. Huff's assistant superintendent, Angie Besendorfer, had no more classroom experience than he had. Curriculum Director Sarah Stevens, who was recently reassigned by Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder, had only two years of classroom experience, nowhere near enough time to have any understanding of curriculum (nor did she have any background in curriculum through her education, something that was criticized in the state audit and forced Huff to hire an assistant for Stevens who did have training).
In the MSBA video, which is designed for those thinking of running for school board, Randol also says it's "a great idea" for potential candidates to attend school board meetings before they are elected to see "good role models in action."
Or you could have come to R-8 Board meetings in recent years to see Mike Landis, Anne Sharp, Jeff Flowers, Randy Steele, and others in action. Often you can learn from watching someone doing things totally wrong.
The video reminds candidates of the state law that requires 16 hours of training for each newly-elected board member (training that is proved by the unelected MSBA). Some would call that indoctrination. We have seen too many board members on too many boards across the state who have it drummed into their heads that if they hired a superintendent they owe it to him or her to go along with everything he or she says.
While it would make no sense to retain a superintendent whose actions you disagree with a majority of the time, it is also vital that board members remember who elected them and their responsibility to know enough about what is going on in their school districts so that if a superintendent is headed down the wrong path, corrective action can be taken.
Unanimous votes are not necessarily a sign that a district is operating effectively and efficiently. We found that out the hard way in Joplin.
We also found out the dangers of a school board that believes, as Anne Sharp often said, that the only person it hires is the superintendent. While boards obviously need to show deference to an administrator's choices in most cases, when you are watching more than half of your faculty walk out the door and you are hearing excuses ranging from the tornado to spouses getting jobs elsewhere, to people not being able to handle high expectations, it is time to start questioning the superintendent.
In Joplin, the questions did not begin until Debbie Fort was elected in April 2014 and by that time the district had changed into one where most of the teachers have only a few years of experience.
The data presented by Ridder at Tuesday night's board meeting showed that Huff sold the district an ever-changing bill of goods on why teachers were leaving.
Part of the reason that happened is because of the slavish devotion board members showed not only to C. J. Huff, but to the MSBA.
Control of local school districts belongs in the community, not in the hands of what is essentially a special interest group.