What Mike Sentance supporters don’t understand

By Larry Lee

One thing that strikes me is that of the people writing op-eds and beating the drum in support of [State Superintendent of Education] Mike Sentance, I have yet to come across one who is an educator.

In fact I well recall about a year ago when I tried and tried to get one of his most vocal backers to go with me to visit a school in the Birmingham area and she flatly refused.

And I have to wonder how many of them have been in a school lately, have volunteered to read to a kindergarten class, have raised money so that outdoor classroom can be built, gone to PTA meetings, packed backpacks, etc.

Consequently, they seem to live in a world that ignores reality. They talk about grand “reforms” but fail to see that the state school system Sentance is in charge of is not working as it should.

When you are scrambling to get enough substitutes, to make sure every first-grader gets on the right bus, wondering where you will get the money to fix a leaking roof and having to calm down mad mothers, talk about some pie-in-the-sky strategic plan is the farthest thing from your mind.

And when your HR person cannot get anyone at the state department to answer her questions or return phone calls, going to another meeting to talk endlessly about new standards is not what you look forward to.

A state board member told me recently that someone in one of her schools called and told her that she had tried and tried to get in touch with someone in Montgomery and left voice mail after voice mail with no luck and that when she finally talked to a real-live human, that person told the school person that she could not take a message and leave it for the staff member at the state department because she was “swamped.”

And a few day ago a local superintendent sent me an email at 9 p.m. on Sunday night wanting to know if I knew how to get in touch with Mike Sentance because he would not answer emails or return phone calls. Another superintendent drove from Eufaula to Dothan to a meeting she knew Mike Sentance was attending–because she could not get him to return her calls and needed to talk to him.

The ONLY reason for the state department of education to exist is so they can do anything they can to help teachers in local schools do a better job of working with their students. It is NOT their job to require more and more paperwork that overwhelm local school systems, to eliminate successful programs because someone in Montgomery doesn’t understand their value or to pass along unbudgeted expenses to already over-burdened local school systems.

Education is supposed to be about working with children. Not about some bureaucrat on the fifth floor of the Gordon Persons Building poring over numbers and making far-fetched decisions based on their lack of knowledge of how schools work.

But this is increasingly what is happening in Alabama. Day after day I hear horror stories about the lack of communication with Montgomery. About deadlines that cannot be met – and if they are, how … does it add value to the classroom of a teacher at tiny Huxford Elementary in Escambia County.

“Leaders” in Montgomery keep telling us how they have an amazing plan to win the Indy 500 car race, while not realizing that the car they plan to race has four flat tires.

I knew long ago that the best experts in education are principals and teachers. They are the people making small miracles happen every day. They are who we need to listen to.

But when their jobs are being hindered by Montgomery, instead of being helped, all the reports and power points and high-priced administrators and endless consultants are [useless].

This is the disconnect between those who support Mike Sentance and those who don’t.

Larry Lee led the study Lessons Learned from Rural Schools and is a longtime advocate for public education. larrylee133@gmail.com. Read his blog: larryeducation.com