June 20, 2012 9:53:35 AM
It was never the motive, but the method.
On Tuesday, Columbus Schools Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell issued a press release that dealt with the controversial early-release program.
The release, which seems to be Liddell's primary means of communication with the media in the three weeks in which she has been on the job, served two purposes. First, she apologized. Then, she hit the re-set button on the whole early-release concept.
We applaud both moves.
Last week, Liddell proposed that the Columbus Municipal School District's Board of Trustees adopt her plan for an early-release program, which would be implemented this fall. Under that plan, students would be released early each Wednesday to allow teachers time for professional development. The missed class time would be recaptured by requiring students to stay later on the other days of the week.
The proposal received little support during the regular portion of the Board meeting. In fact, it was never put to a vote. But shortly after ending its executive session, the proposal was reintroduced and passed before a largely empty board room.
The tactics were questionable at best. First-year board member Jason Spears criticized the Board for taking up the matter without providing the appropriate opportunity for the public to express its views on the matter. For that, Spears was chided by Board President Tommy Prude, which is disheartening to anyone who believes in open dialogue over matters of public interest.
The perceived surreptitious handling of the matter was an unfortunate misstep for the Board and Dr. Liddell, especially since it was the first major move of her tenure as superintendent.
Later in the week, The Mississippi Department of Education ruled that schools may not release students early more than twice a year. That ruling will not go into effect until 2013.
That development seems to have set the stage for Liddell's press release.
In it, Liddell admitted she was wrong not to have given the public a proper forum for expressing its views on early-release.
"My heart as an educator is in the right place,'' Liddell wrote. "I'm not too stubborn to say I'm sorry for allowing my commitment to student achievement to cloud the participatory process I believe should occur prior to implementing a large-scale reform."
The press release then stated that Liddell would ask the Board to set aside its vote on early-release so that the public would have the opportunity to provide more input.
Assuming the Board agrees -- and there is no reason to suggest it won't -- the early-release plan is dead. It seems unthinkable that the early-release program would be implemented when it would only be permitted for a year.
It would be preferable, of course, if the Board dropped the whole early-release matter altogether. It's far more trouble than it is worth at this point.
Certainly, there are far more pressing issues that should command the district's attention. On the same day that Liddell issued her press release, Cook Elementary Principal Lois Kappler resigned. With principals Cindy Wamble (Columbus Middle School) and Scott Hallmark (Columbus High) having already left their positions, three of the district's seven schools are without leaders.
The departure of those educators may be a coincidence or it may be symptomatic of a serious morale problem in the district.
In either event, the turn-over strongly suggests that the district's primary focus should be on something other than early-release.
So, while we applaud Liddell's candid admission of error and her subsequent apology, we urge the Superintendent and the Board to get on with the more important business of finding effective leadership for these schools.
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