Counting on school board

Published 6:50 am Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Franklin School Board, a hard-working but often indecisive group, has been dealt a matter on which it must assert itself.

Public service, at certain defining moments, demands forceful leadership. Careful, slow deliberation is not an option. On such occasions, a leader can’t be concerned about hurting someone’s feelings. He must act decisively in the best interest of those he leads.

For members of the Franklin School Board, now is one of those times.

On Monday night, the board’s seven members — who hold about as thankless a job as there is in the arena of public service but who each accepted it voluntarily and without coercion — are duty bound to protect the integrity and effectiveness of what is arguably this community’s most important public institution.

At a special meeting to consider a stunning edict that teachers must award a 60 percent grade to a student who gets zero, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 percent of his test answers right, they must look the school division’s administration in the eye and say clearly:

* Never, ever again allow us to be blindsided by a radical change in academic policy that undermines taxpayer confidence in our institution and indeed the very mission with which we are charged: preparing our students to succeed in a challenging world.

* End this policy now.

Anything less threatens the very foundation on which our public schools rest.

Many believe that foundation is already cracking. If so, a seismic event such as what the administration has wrought with its new grading policy will surely cause that foundation to crumble.

What a tragedy that would be, especially given the administration’s motive: to shovel a few additional kids through the system so they can receive diplomas they have not earned and so administrators can score a few brownie points with state and federal bureaucrats.

School board members have higher obligations. It has nothing to do with SOLs or accreditation rankings. Rather, their obligations are to prepare students to have a fighting chance to succeed in a workforce where nothing will be handed to them and, in the process, to educate Franklin’s future workforce.

Administrators almost certainly will make a touchy-feely case Monday night for the handful of kids who study hard and just can’t make a 60 instead of a 50. Their plea will ignore a much larger group of kids: those who are capable of learning, of making good grades and of becoming productive citizens but who fail because they don’t try.

If I’m such a kid, I’m doing the math. My history teacher tells me at the beginning of the grading period that I will be tested four times. I know — because the central office has said so — that I can’t make lower than a 60. The average of 60, 60, 60 and 100 is … 70, a passing grade. I’m going to play, coast and goof off — everything but study — for the first three-fourths of the grading period, because I know I’m going to pass.

That’s the mentality that this policy is encouraging. And the mentality that the school board must stop. Monday night.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is