Let’s solve Henderson County’s education shortfalls

By Bill O’Connor, Henderson County Commissioner –

Most of us are aware that K-12 education in the country is in need of massive reform. Giant energy company Exxon Mobile spends a significant part of its advertising money to report on the problems in education and to offer advice and help on solutions Here are two scary stats: Of the world’s 15 year-olds tested, US kids ranked 17th in science and tied for 25th in math with Latvia and Spain. It used to be otherwise.

Among Americans, North Carolina kids score below average. For some good news; in North Carolina our Henderson kids reportedly rank 9th of the 115 school districts in overall academics. On the other hand 30% of incoming freshman at Blue Ridge Community College must take remedial math and writing just to do junior college work, and they are mostly from Henderson county and likely from the top half of their classes.

All of this leads to the central truth that our kids will not just have to compete with others from Burke, Buncombe, or any Tar Heel county, but with Icelanders, Finns, Danes, Irish, and Poles, all of whom outscore Americans. If our kids are to succeed in building a life for themselves that they, and we, can be proud of, they need the best educational foundation we can provide, and certainly one better than indicated above.

The key to positive change is better prepared teachers; teachers with deep subject knowledge and with appropriate incentives leading to demonstrable results. What is holding us back is, primarily, the School Board system that has developed in all 3,033 American counties. A system with ex-teachers and ex-administrators dominating membership, instead of public spirited citizens. Mr. Bazzle, Mr. Wood, and Ms. Corn, incumbents on the ballot this year, are not bad people but are caught up in a bad system with a revolving door among schools, School Boards and other rubber-stampers.

School Boards are supposed to actively oversee school administrators and the operation of the schools; asking tough questions when needed, and getting straight answers, but, tending to be the same people running the schools, are just unlikely to closely question people they worked with last month or last year. This has lead to School administrations bloated with administrative staff like ours in Henderson County that has nearly as many non-teachers as teachers. Millions are devoted to some who seem to have no function other than to develop “programs” that teachers report are piled one on the contradicting other and hurt rather than help the teaching of math, history, science, and language.

What’s more, Administrations and School Boards, ours included, do their dead level best to avoid accountability. If you doubt this, call them and ask for two years of budgets and audit reports like I did by calling a School Board member I know (not one of the four who make the decisions: Ms. Maurer and the incumbent candidates above) and asked for the latest budget and audit. The answer was laughter, then, “We can’t get those” – this from a member of the School Board! The system undermines meaningful accountability for either money spent or student outcomes.

Also Note

• It is instructive that Superintendent Jones’ first public announcement following the 15% budget increase this past cycle was the hiring of a “Director of K-12 Education” at roughly $100,000 including benefits. I may be ‘undereducated’ on the topic, but I thought Superintendent Jones was hired to direct K-12 education.

• Visit the Fourth and Buncombe Street School Headquarters at 9:00am and again at 2:15pm on a Friday to observe the staff’s work habits.

If we are going to be serious about K-12 reforms we cannot hide from the world here in our mountains, we have to start by getting new thinking on the School Board; citizens without ties to the school system who will ask the questions and demand the answers. We are fortunate this year, some of the challengers for the School Board’s four available seats are not directly tied to the schools. Find out about them through media and candidate forums. Just getting four fresh minds will be a dramatic improvement.

Mr. Bazzle and Ms. Corn have done the best they could over many terms. Mr. Wood and Ms. Corn epitomize the revolving-door-problem. Exxon Mobile says: “Let’s solve this”; let us indeed, beginning by remaking our School Board for better student outcomes on Nov. 6th.

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