By Quin Hillyer, special for this web site:

 

Backwards, straw-chewing hayseeds.

Uneducated rednecks uninterested in educating the next generation any better than the current one.

Southern-fried morons. Gravy-soaked illiterates. Mean, parochial yahoos.

Those are the images of Alabamians that the bi-coastal elites hold and spread through their establishmentarian institutions in the media, academia, and business networks.

And Alabama’s State Board of Education (SBOE) is on the verge of feeding that image. 

While the people of Alabama of course don’t deserve the image, the state school board is giving the elites all the reason in the world to think it’s true. The board is about to give the state a huge black eye — a self-inflicted black eye of the sort that comes from deliberately hitting oneself with a hammer.

The state school board is set to fire state school superintendent Michael Sentance on Thursday — if Sentance doesn’t resign in disgust on Wednesday. The firing, if it occurs, will be a travesty of justice and common sense, and a tragedy for Alabama’s students.

Each school board member who casts such a vote ought to resign.

And locally in southern Alabama, board member Jackie Zeigler, whom I endorsed for the office last year, is about to prove to be the single worst mistake in political judgment I’ve ever made — because, unless she changes her mind, she is in the “fire Sentance” camp.

For shame.

Here’s why this is such a travesty, and such a black eye for the state:

  1. Sentance is a nationally recognized reformer who oversaw the Massachusetts school system when it was the highest-performing system in the country. Firing him just one year after he began the job (after having begun to agitate to fire him after just seven months) would make Alabama look flat-out idiotic — not to mention unfair.
  2. Sentance already has earned the admiration of top officials in the Trump/DeVos federal Department of Education (DoE). They have told me so, in person.
  3. Alabama was struggling with, and justifiably hated, the school testing program known as ACT-Aspire, which was ill-designed and counterproductive. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the SBOE all wanted it replaced. So Alabama requested permission from the federal DoE to replace it with a better test. The feds said no. Sentance appealed and, in a long-distance phone conference, impressed the feds so much that they changed their minds and approved the plans for a new test. It was Sentance’s presentation, quite specifically, that won the day — for the sake of Alabama’s students.
  4. Sentance is putting in place a cogent and comprehensive system to replace the hated Common Core educational standards with high-quality standards written by Alabamians, using our values and setting our own high expectations.
  5. Sentance has outlined an inspirational agenda and set of goals for the state’s schools and students. But in doing so, he has roiled the waters of the existing Alabama educational power structure — you know, that same power structure that has put Alabama near dead last in every measure of educational attainment. The state school unions — the worst in the country — are against him, because he has upset their apple cart. A good rule of thumb is if Alabama’s existing educrats are against somebody, he must be pretty good.
  6. The man barely had a chance to get situated here — indeed, he hadn’t even had time to move his family down here — before the educrats and their SBOE champion, Stephanie Bell, were trying to fire him, many months ago. How fair is that? How wise is that?
  7. To fire somebody after just a year (and again, in effect Sentance was hobbled after just six or seven months because of the conspiracy against him) should require that those doing the firing should be able to offer compelling, understandable reasons. Instead, most of what they have offered is a bunch of vague mumbo-jumbo about lack of communications skills (so the poor man stammers; so did Winston Churchill, fergoshsakes) and weak administrative abilities. But whenever they actually try to offer specifics, they turn out not to be true. (See this story last week from al.com.) They have smeared Sentance unmercifully, sometimes with self-contradictory accusations.
  8.  If you as a board member hire somebody from out of state, bring him in, and ask him to do a job, then you should be helping him to navigate unfamiliar territory, offering to ease his transition, and working extra hard to give him the tools and space he needs to succeed. I challenge the current board members — other than Mary Scott Hunter and Betty Peters, who want to keep him on the job — to show more than a pittance of examples of them actually doing any of this. (Whatever happened to southern hospitality? Whatever happened to Southern manners? And whatever happened to basic, business-like common sense?)
  9. Finally, consider the effect on our already-stumbling schools if the constant turmoil from the SBOE continues. If Sentance is fired, there will be another year-long search for a new superintendent (more uncertainty and turmoil); and then a new superintendent himself (or herself) will need time for transition (meaning yet more uncertainty and turmoil). This is a recipe for disaster.

In sum, the SBOE is foisting upon us a nightmare of epic proportions, and perhaps even leaving itself (and thus us) open to legal retribution. And it is badly mistreating a good, talented, and well-meaning man, all for the sake of settling old scores that in many ways have nothing to do with Sentance himself. Their behavior is petty, and outrageous, and shocking.

If they follow through with their plans to fire Michael Sentance, every good citizen of Alabama should work to ensure that none of the board members who do so will ever win another election anywhere in the state, and indeed that they should be ostracized and otherwise treated as the betrayers of public trust that they will have proved to be.

 

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