The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

You and Your Local School Board

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The New York Times ran a story last week about the Harrold Independent School District in Harrold, Texas where the school board has decided that training and arming teachers is their best solution to school security issues. You can read the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/29/us/29texas.html?scp=2&sq=texas%20&st=cse

The district has provided teachers with training from private consultants in the use of their weapons, and protected the identities of those who have opted to arm themselves. The directive was spearheaded by David Thweatt, the Superintendent of the 100-student district.

Thweatt and the district feel they have legitimate concerns, the main ones being that the nearest sheriff’s office is 17 miles away and there has been a recent upturn in drug activity. I wonder what area libraries and hospitals are doing to address their concerns about the same issues. They, too, suffer from being remote and vulnerable. The district pled poverty when it explained it cannot afford security. That’s odd; surely the private training didn’t come for free. And where else is their money being spent? The HISD website lists contact information for both a principal and a superintendent; I can’t imagine such a microscopic district needing both administrative positions. It seems that eliminating one of the positions could provide enough money to hire the security that seems so vital.

I will not be surprised if the school boards’ decision is overturned, and I hope it is. I can think of several reasons why– foremost, the HISD decision sets a poor precedent for other districts in similar situations. Furthermore, the potential for something to go wrong far outweighs the benefits of security in a district where violence is almost unheard of. Detractors have further reasons, some being that HISD’s decision violates state law about who is allowed to carry a weapon in a school building, and that the decision saddles teachers with further supervisory responsibilities that are exponentially more dangerous than standard school supervisions and for which they are not fully trained. To add to that, none of what I have read has addressed how students feel about their safety within the school buildings now that there has been an influx of concealed firearms. I’m curious to know how students are responding both emotionally and academically now that their school board and superintendent have declared that they can’t afford to provide for their safety in any other way. How difficult is it to learn in an atmosphere of paranoia like the one that has been established by the school leaders? Like most teenagers, these students are probably seeing other things around the district buildings and drawing their own conclusions as to why their individual safety has taken a backseat to issues such as a manicured football field and administrative salaries.

Something else I find disturbing about this is the power granted to the school board and the superintendent to make these decisions. Several residents claimed ignorance about the process the board followed in passing these measures. Here is where the residents of Harrold are at fault– they are the ones who elect the schoolboard; they are the ones who are responsible for attending schoolboard meetings and checking in with the regular proceedings of the district. Sadly, it’s a situation that I have seen all too frequently. School board members are some of the least knowledgable local citizens when it comes to education and such concepts as best practices in teaching, hiring effective administrators, and making sound budgetary decisions that serve the best interests of as many students as possible and not just the jockstraps and sportsbras crowd. To complicate matters, school board positions too often are viewed as the bottom of the totem pole, as thankless positions that people are relieved to have filled by someone else– even if that someone else has family already on the school board (usually a bad idea because of nepotism), or if that someone else didn’t even graduate from high school (another bad idea… what example is that setting to families and students?).

What is worse is when school boards make poor decisions over and over with no consequence or accountability. Poor school board decisions always trickle down to effect students in some way or another; on the way down, the trickle is more like a tidal wave that can take its toll on administration, faculty, and support staff. A short list of my favorite poor decisions includes hiring administrators who have retired from out-of-state districts (a popular ploy by admins to collect two pensions by the time they fully retire), promoting successful coaches to administrative positions (the idea being they should be able to manage educated adults with the the same success they did teenagers), budgetting money for more athletic facilities when there are scant fine arts facilities, keeping ineffective administrators for any reason, and not being an active presence at the school during the school day. This list is heavy on school board dealings with administrators, the reason being that a school cannot thrive with an ineffective administration. It’s no different than a good team with a poor coach. The individual talent is not going to pull a team through if their leadership is flawed and insufficient.

Ultimately, the school board is like any other governing body. It will get away with whatever it is allowed to get away with. If community indifference empowers a school board to operate in relative secrecy, as some citizens of Harrold claimed their board did, then it will continue to do so. Most likely, its decisions will continue to be shocking, ineffective, and unsatisfying to its constituency. One solution is to be active with your local school board by making your voice heard and your vote count.

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Written by seeker70

September 5, 2008 at 11:39 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] my first time writing about it in these pages (one of the first entries I made on The Seeker was You and Your Local School Board).  It makes it all the worse for my neighboring district that Carbone feels it is acceptable to […]

  2. […] of.  These are for Warren, my local district, which I’ve written about before herein.  In fact, the subject of school boards is one of the first I ever wrote about in The Seeker, and I’ve revisited school board issues on […]


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