NOB HILL--Mayor Martin Chavez is trying to leverage his political power into the APS boardroom. Actually, who could blame him? What makes it so painful to watch is how utterly defenseless Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt has shown herself to be. It is like watching a boxer getting pummeled into the dust without throwing any punch at all...without even raising a hand to ward off blows...without even a groan of pain. She is slipping to the canvas as if she wanted to go to sleep all along.
Talk about a power vacuum! Where is that woman? Locked in her office? (I would have said "ivory tower" but her academic credentials don't lend themselves to that analogy). And how did this miscast sphinx of the desert end up as Trail Boss of this spread with its hundreds of thousands of people (both staff and students), and its hundreds of millions of dollars?
Let's start several years ago with the Board of Education. They hired Bradford Allison as Superintendent. He was an "out of towner," brought in because he had sold the Board a solution to a problem they didn't know they had: a failing system. Now APS might have been boring, but it certainly wasn't failing. At any rate, it was a plot straight out of the Music Man...complete with a metaphoric "pool table," the old Central Office.
Now after Dr. Allison sold them the disease, he sold them the cure. The problem as he saw it was too many teachers out there teaching what they thought their particular students needed. His solution was to centralize all instruction under the banner of "Standards-Based" education. Sounds great. Who could be against standards? There were two problems:
- Standards-based education offers very little to students at either the top or bottom of the academic ladder. It is really best only for "standard" students. (And now we are hearing of kids dropping out of school from boredom).
- What he really was interested in was power...centralized power...arrogant unchecked power. Ask anybody. There were half a dozen lawsuits filed against him for what amounted to abuse of power...such as indiscriminate firings and demotions. And further proof of the fear he engendered among his subordinates is the fact that not one of them voiced any opposition to buying the $12.5 million "Taj Majal" next to Coronado Center. Add in an additional $5 million for remodelling and we are in the neighborhood of Serious Money for a district that can't afford to build its own schools.
Now the first thing a "hired gun" superintendent does is fire the next level of bureaucrats. He doesn't want anybody taking potshots at him. He then brings on "his own people." In this case, he hired three people whom he didn't have to worry about in terms of their having any credibility with the rest of APS: Beth Everitt and the 2 Vigils, Michael and Joe.
After Allison was fired, that is what we were left with. Joe died in a car accident while "looking for a party" in the Moriarty area. Michael was arrested for DWI. Beth was appointed Superintendent.
Allison brought her into the top levels of management because she would do what he told her, not because she had the cajones to run a school district. She was an elementary school counselor who got a Ph.D. She was minimally qualified to be Allison's assistant. Now she is the Superintendent.
As I see it, her position requires that she succeed in four areas: Child advocate, educational leader, politician, fund raiser. Unfortunately, her tenure shows a real lack of success in any of these areas.
Take child advocacy...if children on the west side need a school it is the superintendents DUTY to tell the larger community the truth and fight to make it happen. Instead, she and the Board of Education opted to not ask the voters...they went to the legislature for an easier way out and were rebuffed. The legislature said they needed to raise their own money.
Take educational leadership...we are directionless except for an emphasis on those ridiculous tests. We don't even get an explanation of whether they measure anything important or not. The mayor's beef is that APS has too many kids dropping out of school. The Superintendent worries about meeting rising test score requirements. They should be talking about the same thing.
Take political leadership...Beth Everitt can't even lead this Board of Education anyplace, much less the lawmakers in Santa Fe. And now the Mayor of Albuquerque wants a piece of the turf. What is she waiting for? A rescue wagon? Stand up and fight! Don't the children of this city deserve as much?
Okay, take fund-raising...Forget the legislature for a moment. Look at the victory margin for the last APS bond issue: it passed about 80% to 20%. Why the hell didn't we try to pass enough money to pay for at least some of what was so obviously needed? The support was there.
The last point of this long-winded rant is that the Board of Education continues to act as if nothing is wrong. Oh, they have their little projects...like putting KANW out of business...but refuse to act like they care about children at all. It is almost as if they were still too stunned by their failures in the Brad Allison era to do anything today. Well, wake up and smell the coffee. That knock on the door isn't pizza delivery, it's the Big Bad Mayor.
Note: I sent a copy of this post to every member of the Board of Education. I hope to hear back from them and will certainly publish any responses I receive. If you, dear reader, wish to communicate with them directly their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.