Warming cold educational waters

As recently reported in The Commercial, the state Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to return the Dollarway School District to local control after two years of state control. We are heartened by this news. We hope it signals a new era of progressive leadership and higher teaching standards in the district.

When the state board voted to take over the district in 2012, the superintendent and school board were removed and state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell appointed former Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Frank Anthony as superintendent.

Bobby Acklin, former assistant superintendent of the North Little Rock School District, replaced Anthony last July.

While we support local governance in most cases, Dollarway needed a respite from the former dysfunctional culture of supervision and district management. To that end, we strongly suggest that no one previously holding a position on the Dollarway School Board be re-elected to another term.

The logic behind this stern admonishment can be summed with a simple question: Would you want the captain of the Titanic holding the wheel of your new ship? If the good people of the Dollarway school district elect the same folks to their school board as were in place during 2012, then that is exactly what they have asked to happen.

The same hubris and mismanagement that led the district to the pinnacle of failure in 2012 will be all but guaranteed to return. Therefore, the people of the district must nominate and elect new board members who may not be familiar faces, but who are better qualified, through wisdom, experience and temperament to lead the district down this new path.

We have previously addressed this topic in many guises. As a community we rarely demonstrate our commitment to system learning. By this we mean that we (as a system of people, values and processes) routinely fail to adjust our tactics in the face of failure. We re-elect the people who were the architects of our misfortune; and then act surprised when the same old maladies come back again and again.

The people of the Dollarway school district have before them an opportunity to show they have in fact learned something from this experience and that they will no longer be complacent in district management.

We recognize that change is often difficult, even if that change is for the better. We know that it is all the more challenging if we’re talking about changing the well-ensconced habits and expectations of a huge public bureaucracy. For better or worse, that’s exactly what has to happen here.

If the people of the Dollarway school district return even one former member to their school board then they will have sent a clear signal that they don’t care about education. They will have signaled that the past two years of scratching and clawing up from the muck of bad management means nothing to them. They will have signaled that their children’s futures are immaterial.

Of course former school board members may protest that they weren’t to blame for the mess left in their wake. They will attempt to convince voters that they were the lone sentinel of reason. They will bid you forget that they rammed the ship full of school children squarely into the iceberg.

If the progress of the past two years means anything at all, we pray Dollarway patrons will not forget it