School boards need to hear all voices
By Tina Hone
I read with great interest Laura V. Berthiaume’s July 25 Local Opinions commentary, “Who really controls the Montgomery schools,” about the Montgomery County Board of Education’s relationship with its superintendent and staff. While there are many differences between our systems, Ms. Berthiaume succinctly captured a core shared tension when she wrote: “In the balance of power between the board of education and the bureaucracy, the superintendent and his staff hold all the cards. They outwit, outlast and outplay.”
Activist stakeholders in Fairfax County see the same dynamic between our school board and superintendent. They are not willing to be silent about it. They bring forward rich analysis and ideas that sometimes run counter to our staff’s recommendations. In providing this information, these stakeholders help us maintain the crucial balance between the school board members who are elected to govern and our superintendent, whom we hire to manage the system. Rather than embrace this growing community engagement and celebrate our blessings in having a brain trust of talent and experts in our county, we bristle and become defensive, creating a counterproductive cycle of mistrust where no one wins, least of all our students.
A few board members have publicly justified ignoring such vocal community activists by resorting to a quote from former board member Robert E. Frye Sr., who would challenge his colleagues to “listen to the silence” as votes moved forward on programs that would help some of our least empowered communities and students. I agree completely with Mr. Frye and have voted consistently — sometimes alone — to protect programs for our neediest kids whose parents are included in “the silence” he referenced.
But “listening to the silence” does not preclude listening to the vocal, too. We have the capacity and the obligation — as democratically elected board members — to hear both. Indeed, we should hear everyone and then make sound policy decisions based on staff advice, our own consciences and, yes, careful consideration of community concerns — both expressed and silent.
The writer is an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board.
| August 1, 2010; 12:28 PM ET
Categories: Fairfax County, schools
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