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Telling Good Advice From Bad



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Telling Good Advice From Bad

New Year’s resolutions are not supposed to be easy to keep. If some failing or deficiency follows us around for an entire year and then ventures to establish a foothold in a brand-new year, wishing to do better and for a fresh start is a natural impulse. But problems that have the momentum of the old year (or years) behind them tend to steamroll mere resolve. That is why we seek advice and support, often enlisting experts to help us on our way. So, then, the key to keeping our resolutions — in making progress toward our higher aspirations — often depends on our ability to tell good advice from bad.

We wondered about the advice the Board of Education heard last month from a senior staff associate for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). He was being questioned by a new school board member about the process of evaluating the district’s superintendent of schools. Since last year’s evaluation was conducted behind closed doors and produced no written evaluation report or document, the board member wanted to know how the newly elected Board of Education could base future evaluations of the superintendent on previous assessments, as prescribed in the board’s own policy on the subject.

The new board member pressed the issue with the CABE representative: “So the new board, we have nothing to base it on, nothing to look at. There is no basis for us. So what do we do?” The question elicited a rationale rather than an answer. CABE does not recommend a formal written process, she was told, because anything in writing can become a public document. Evidently, it is preferable from CABE’s point of view to keep a school board’s candid assessment of a superintendent’s performance from public scrutiny and discussion even if it means that subsequent school boards are deprived of the information they might need to conduct meaningful future evaluations.

CABE is the same “helping” agency that hooked up Newtown’s school administrators with a public relations firm, which ultimately had to resign in the middle of its own local public relations fiasco. CABE clearly believes information is dangerous stuff to be handled by experts only. Later in that same meeting last month, the CABE representative instructed board members on the importance of understanding the “chain of command” and the need to be cautious about what members say. “When you say something as a Board of Ed member, people listen,” he warned. Yes, loose lips may sink ships, but we have to ask: Whose ship are we talking about here?

We wish the new Board of Education well with all its resolutions for 2012. If one of those resolutions is to rehabilitate its standing with the public, we would encourage it to look beyond the advice it is getting from CABE to the real experts about the community it serves — the people of Newtown. They do not need to be patronized or manipulated. They need to be informed. A good place to begin would be for the board to give them its honest assessment of the administration of Newtown’s schools.

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