Some us are old enough to recall Pogo the possum, the cartoon character created by Walt Kelly decades ago. Pogo’s most famous saying appeared on a poster in 1970 for Earth Day proclaiming, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Sadly this refrain keeps running through my mind as I observe the wholesale mess we find in Alabama’s K 12 education system right now.
We have done two surveys in the last three weeks. Almost 2,000 people responded, over 70 percent being teachers and others working in public schools in some capacity.
Their message has been constant, consistent and strong.
They think the “leadership” being provided by state superintendent Mike Sentance and his hand-picked staff is a train wreck. Our last survey showed that 96 percent of respondents think Sentance should have never been hired. Some 81 percent think education is in worse shape today than a year ago and 75 percent say it will be even worse in 12 months. When asked to give Sentance a letter grade, 89 percent gave him a D or F.
These numbers are staggering. If a local superintendent had this little support in their community, they would be out of a job. Same for a new teacher. Get reaction like this and you are terminated.
But Governor Kay Ivey ignores such info and asks that Sentance not be fired. What in the world is she thinking?
We are not short of groups who are supposed to “represent” various sectors of the education community. Teachers and support personnel have the Alabama Education Association. Principals and other administrators have the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, while school boards have the Alabama Association of School Boards. And there is the School Superintendents Association to speak for superintendents.
But where are their voices as this debacle worsens?
As best I can tell, they are quiet as church mice.
The most revealing question was the first one in the July 31 survey: “It has now been one year since the state board of education selected a new state superintendent on a vote of 5-4. He promptly assembled a new “leadership team” that has often been criticized by educators. Many describe the situation as a “crisis of confidence.” Do you agree with this assessment?”
Some 87 percent agreed. I am not surprised at all.
But here’s the deal. This “crisis” does not stop with just Mike Sentance. It includes everyone in the upper echelons of education. The state school board, the governor, and everyone else who we expect to speak up for our 730,000 public school students.
For example, 53 percent of respondents say that WILL NOT vote for Governor Ivey if she supports Mike Sentance. One of his strongest supporters is Betty Peters of Dothan. Her term on the state school board is up in 2018. Some 82 percent say they will not vote for her. (And when you factor out the undecideds, this rises to 97 percent.) Same holds true for state board member Mary Scott Hunter who supports Sentance and is an announced candidate for Lt. Governor. Our numbers show that her two announced opponents, Rep. Will Ainsworth and Senator Rusty Glover have more than three times as many supporters as she does. (Again, factor out undecideds and she has only 12 percent of the vote, while Ainsworth has 47 and Glover has 41.)
Stephanie Bell is vice-president of the state board and the longest-serving member of this body. While she voted to hire Sentance, over time she realized he is not qualified to hold the job and no longer supports him. Like the vast majority of the 2,000 who answered our surveys, she is ready to move forward and begin clearing up the mess Sentance has made.
However, when she looks around, the troops she should have behind her are not there.
Why? You tell me. I don’t know.
But I do know that to my great sadness, Pogo’s words seem very apt at this moment, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”