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Why public input is essential, if the goal is to "close the gap"
originally posted at mpls issues list as reply to Re: Spin Control on Jennings withdrawal
by Doug Mann, 18 October 2003

Doug Mann as quoted by Tim Bonham: "The board has thus far refused to commit itself to an open, competitive bidding process"

Tim Bonham: "Right -- lets take the low bidder for our next Schools Superintendent! That's just bound to get us the most qualified person, right?"

Doug Mann replies: I didn't say "let's take the lowest bidder." And Mr. Bonham even altered the idea that I conveyed by chopping off part of the sentence that he quoted, "...with opportunities for public input."

The school board welcomes public input like the devil welcomes holy water.

The school board also does not want to do its business out in the open. That's why the October 14 board meeting wasn't recorded for broadcast by radio or cable TV.  The board was faced with an open discussion at the October 14 board meeting that would ordinarily happen behind closed doors. The fewer prying eyes and ears, the better.

The district says "expect great things," but also says "it will take generations to close the gap."

The district cooks the data on student achievement to hide its failure to close the "learning gap."

By what criteria should we evaluate school superintendent candidates? If the most important things are public relations skills, political savvy, and connections with the business community, David Jennings is definitely qualified for the job.

If the district's top priorities really are boosting student achievement and closing the gap, then we need to identify what systemic factors are contributing to differences in test scores, graduation rates, disciplinary actions, etc. That's the first step in the Problem-Solving process used in many disciplines, including teaching and nursing.

Data on student achievement in math and reading gathered by the national assessment for educational progress, and from other sources, show that the public schools were boosting student achievement and closing the gap during the 1970s and early 1980s. It can be done.

If the board really wants to boost students achievement and close the gap, you need a superintendent who knows what it takes to do that. Certainly, experience as a teacher and school administrator would be very helpful, if not essential.

Some time back I posted Emails to the list that described how I identified and corrected problems with the table service at a Denny's restaurant which resulted in a large average difference in tips received by black and white customers. I was a waiter with experience as a cook and assumed the role of team leader. The goal: boosting tip income and closing the tipping gap. The problem: crappy service. I identified the biggest problems with the service by gathering and breaking down data in a systematic way. The data led me to one conclusion that I had not expected to reach: With consistently good service it is possible to completely eliminate the racial tipping gap. That also led to a radical change in how I felt about serving black customers.

I also know how important it is to understand how a service is delivered from my experience as a health care worker. I had several years of experience as a nursing assistant, sometimes in the role of team leader, before I became a nurse.

At my first job as a charge nurse (night shift) at a nursing home, I identified and corrected deficiencies in service delivery that resulted in many of the residents acquiring stage 2 or more severe pressure sores (at least some skin
breakdown). When I started that job, about 6 of 15 "at risk" residents had stage 2 or worse pressure sores at any one time. But within a couple of months all of the pressure sores were healed and the facility could boast of having no acquired pressure sores while I worked as night charge nurse, from September 1992 to early 1994. There were no acquired pressure sores at that facility, Lynnhurst Health Care Center, in 1993 (This is a verifiable claim). And believe
me, I had to step on some toes to make that happen.

Most nursing homes in Minnesota with "at risk" residents report having some acquired pressure sores just about every year for at least the past decade. The excuses that nursing supervisors offer for their failure to prevent pressure
sores: "You can't prevent pressure sores because of risk factors like age, poor circulation, inactivity, being underweight, etc." Sounds like the kind of excuses used by the school board for their failure to educate "at risk" students.

The broader school community has an essential role to play in carrying out and supporting changes in school policy that will boost student achievement and close the gap. That why we need to consider the what and the how before making a decision about the who. And that's why public input is necessary.