About 4 p.m. on April 21, 2017 someone at the state department of education pushed a button and not long after all Hell broke loose. Suddenly, one hour before closing time and two days before a Monday state holiday, graduation rates for Alabama high schools for 2016 were sent into the wild blue yonder.
There was just one problem. The information was wrong, wrong, wrong and soon educators around the state were getting calls from media about data they had never seen and did not know about. The next 72 hours were chaotic.
The state board met on April 26 and wanted to know what went wrong. They especially wanted to know who pushed the button that made this data “live.”
And the present management team at ALSDE did what they usually do. Call a consultant to do a report. (Which naturally left many wondering why you need a consultant to find out who hit SEND?)
Phil Hammonds, retired Jefferson County school superintendent was engaged to come up with answers. He is an extremely competent educator with impeccable credentials.
Today, July 11, 11 weeks and four days after the data release, the state board heard from Hammonds.
He made a thorough report, detailing which school systems he talked to, which individuals at ALSDE he interviewed, etc. At the end of the day, he said no one should be blamed. This was a regrettable incident that hurt state department relations with local systems. He said one person he interviewed called it “a perfect storm.” There was a break down in communications. Senior staff thought it was OK to release the data.
He also assured the state board that steps have been put in place to prevent this from happening again.
As to who actually pushed the button to release data, he simply referred to this as a “slippery slope.” (Your interpretation of this is as good as mine.)
But he never told us why, if there was no one guilty of wrong doing, Mike Sentance threw senior staff member Linda Felton-Smith under the bus by putting her on administrative leave because of this incident..
Linda Felton-Smith spent 41 years in education, some as superintendent of the Troy City school system. Tommy Bice brought her to Montgomery several years ago. She is competent, pleasant and smart. Having been in the trenches in local school systems, she always understood that the only reason the state department exists is to help schools be better prepared to teach children.
But Sentance needed a scapegoat. So he landed on Linda Felton-Smith, though not a soul who knew her well agreed with him.
Linda went on leave. And shortly after she returned to her job she retired. Which is a real loss to education in Alabama because folks like Linda don’t grow on trees. We need her dedication and her work ethic, especially in a state department that has lost way too much institutional knowledge in the last few years.
Hammond did a very thorough job. But Mike Sentance was not so forgiving. He wanted to make an example of someone ASAP.
So now we have a report exonerating Linda. But Sentance never mentioned what he did to her as Hammond gave his report.
At the least, he owes her a very public apology at the next state board meeting..